Letter to Editor

In regards to concern with LMO implementation in Edgefield County:

By : Megan Pearson

All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views  and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser. 

I’ve asked, at several different meetings and also in various social media conversations with representation whether zoning ordinances and a comprehensive plan have to match. 

The answer to that question has always been a resounding “NO, the comprehensive plan is simply a guide for the zoning ordinances”.

This is without a doubt, not true, were the people answering my question actually following the letter of the law. 

Their answers have puzzled me for quite some time as I’ve been combing SC planning and development law for weeks. EVERY single law code pertaining to this subject states the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances cannot contradict. 

I could not understand why Mr. Cooper changed those 2 Land Use Categories in the 2019 Comprehensive Plan but kept insisting it made no difference because the land was unzoned. 

It had to make a difference; otherwise he wouldn’t have done it.

During research I stumbled onto the MASC site a few weeks ago and discovered that The Municipal Association of South Carolina offers a publication, The 2018 Comprehensive Planning Guide for Local Governments. This guide clarifies the legalese that is so hard to understand or follow, as well as the entire process of planning and zoning. 

If this process has been as confusing to any of you as it was to me, it’s worth a perusal. 

(Edgefield County is also a member of The Municipal Association of SC)

I’m listing a few issues on zoning and planning I’ve managed to clear up using this guide:

 1. Comprehensive plans are adopted via ordinance. An ordinance is an enforceable law.

Therefore, if worded specifically enough to do so, the Land Use Categories in the 2019 Comprehensive Plan can serve as protection for any unzoned land in the unincorporated areas of our rural county.

2. If the Land Use Categories are SPECIFIC as to development requirements then any application for development submitted for consideration within that particular Land Use Category (regardless of zoning) mustmeet those specifications or the application can be denied.

3. PD (Planned development) and PRD (Planned Residential Development) are simply zoning districts that the county may utilize that allow for higher density residential development. These zoning districts must meet state mandated guidelines. Those guidelines have a very broad range of interpretation depending on whether you’re a developer or an existing property owner affected by said development. (see pages 19 and 20 of the MASC Planning Guide)

If a person owns the minimum acreage required for these districts, he can request his zoning be changed to PD or PRD and subdivide as small as the 2019 Comprehensive Plan and the requirements in the PD or PRD zoning district will allow. This zoning technique can be used countywide.

(FYI: Edgefield’s current comprehensive plan does NOT specify a minimum lot size or density due to changes made during the June council meeting.

4. The zoning ordinances currently being designed will affect only the unincorporated areas of the county. These zoning ordinances apply to you and me. A residential developer gets special zoning ordinances: PD and PRD allowing for a higher density, if he so desires.

5. While every county must have a comprehensive plan, zoning is NOTrequired via The SC Local Government Planning Act of 1994. 

(The laws pertaining to state requirements for county planning) 

It is certainly a reasonable assumption that a comprehensive plan can protect unzoned land from certain development AS LONG as it is specifically worded to do so.

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The plain and simple reason those changes were initiated by Mr. Cooper to the 2019 Comprehensive Plan during the June council meeting was to remove the densities and lot size requirements from the two largest land use categories utilized within Edgefield county. 

Those lot sizes and densities had to be removed from the 2019 Comprehensive Plan in order for any high density development applications that are submitted using PR or PRD zoning techniques to be approved.

Since the lot size and unit minimums were removed from the 2019 Comprehensive Plan, the developers of the subdivisions Tavern Hill and Windsor “voluntarily” submitted their applications within the PD or PRD guidelines. 

Council did not have to spend $90,000.00 to hire a consulting firm to complete a comprehensive plan. 

The process is simple and if council so wished, it could have used the guide offered through MASC to complete it.

Our council has hired the same consulting firm for an additional $90,000.00 for the purpose of selling current residents on zoning to “protect” area’s that are currently unzoned. The zoning currently being designed will contain restrictions that affect how much land WE are allowed to divide for development and is touted as a protection against too dense development, among other things. What it doesn’t say is that developers can “lock up land” and develop it at a denser level by applying for a zoning change to PR or PRD regardless of the current zoning.

As demonstrated with Tavern Hill and Windsor Subdivisions, it can and will be approved. 

We are told it has to be approved, or the county faces a lawsuit as the comprehensive plan does not exclude that denser development.

In my informed opinion and based on what I have read and researched, this zoning is not in our best interests.

Zoning is simply a tool used by county government to protect and maintain a steady tax base. 

Zoning will restrict a property owner to the standards of the county.

We are told “We can’t stop this growth”.

Our council chairman has stated he is “Promoting our founding fathers values and protecting private property rights”. 

I can’t help but ponder the irony in such a statement because while making this statement he is also actively pushing for zoning ordinances that focus on aesthetics within certain land use categories in the unincorporated areas of our county. Aesthetics, meaning restrictions as to the color of fascia on housing, fencing, shrubbery, gardens, and structures such as storage buildings that will be allowed on one’s property (Just to name a few examples). 

Also, whether you like mobile homes or not, is a government really protecting private property rights when it tell a property owner he can’t have a mobile home on land that doesn’t meet certain aesthetic criteria?

The above mentioned aspects of property ownership are very basic property rights I would expect elected representation to vehemently protect whilst making such a statement.

I must say, if the very basic property rights of an individual can be restricted in such a manner then there’s certainly no reason a developer’s ability to cram as many units as possible onto a parcel of land shouldn’t be restricted as well.

I certainly don’t have all of the answers to the issues our county is facing today.

I know SC State law needs a major overhaul when it comes to planning and development regulations. It’s become quite common for local governments to incur massive debt at current resident’s expense for purposes often at odds with those current residents’ wishes to live peaceably and maintain what they already have. 

Of course there’s always room for improvement and there will always be infrastructure needs. 

I know our law enforcement salaries need a substantial increase and we must build a new jail. Some of our county employees have too many duties and could use new equipment. The list is lengthy but that’s a reason to prioritize.

Adding more need on top of existing need only exacerbates problems.

It’s quite simple, if meeting these needs comes at a detriment to the majority of property owners in our rural areas then it’s just my opinion, but maybe we should consider other options.

I personally don’t go purchase a new roof if the floor of my house is caving in, that’s not a very wise investment decision, is it? So why is it acceptable for government to expend revenues on unnecessary items such as expensive fancy signs in an attempt to sell what is already in need of critical maintenance? 

It goes without saying that if actual needs are currently greater than the ability to fund those needs then unnecessary “wants’ have some part in this equation.

I can say that it is extremely important for us to thoroughly vet and elect representation that holds dear the same values we do. We need to see beyond the smooth talk so often heard from these well-educated men and woman that are currently gaining seats at both a local and state level.

Gambling with tax revenue should never be acceptable, especially in a small town such as ours.

Maintaining, protecting, and upholding the values of CURRENT residents should be the key focus of county council. 

We need representation that holds dear the values we are all hopefully teaching our own children: avoid debt and overspending and appreciate what you have. 

Living simply and quietly is not a bad thing. 

It seems people have grown too accustomed to instant gratification and forgotten that money isn’t everything and often what is shiny really isn’t gold. 

Last but not least, I read with interest the letter to the editor in this paper last week.

However interesting an opinion it was, it lacked evidence of critical thinking on behalf of the writer. 

Whether you believe high density growth is a detriment or a blessing and whether you believe zoning is actually going to protect you from something or subject you to it, it helps to understand the method by which both are being approved and facilitated within this county. It was clear that the writer doesn’t understand some or all of what is occurring here as professionals and those with experience may not always have your best interests at heart. 

I haven’t witnessed very many instances of Edgefield residents stating they want to stop residential growth. 

However, I have, heard quite a few people say they wish the dense development that developers are exploiting and using to profit immensely would be limited and/or halted as it causes a disruption in the peaceful rural lifestyle so many of us wish to maintain. It goes without saying, if enough people showed up during the planning stage to have those lot sizes and densities included in the 2019 Comprehensive Plan only to have them removed by council in June then obviously they aren’t happy with this entire process.

Public hearings and listening meetings have proven to be pointless. 

Don’t assume people are ok with what is occurring at these LMO listening meetings just because they don’t attend them. Perhaps they’d simply rather not waste their time as it doesn’t matter what input they offer anyway.  

Lastly, I can assure anyone in question that the people present at said meeting decided they had heard enough and that the meeting was over. When asked, they wanted no part in the last block of this meeting and quite a few stood up and left. Drawing on maps has proven pointless in the past. 

I know this because I was present and I videoed the meeting. 

While I didn’t pan around to show people standing up to leave, what was stated in our newspaper was true and factual.

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