Part One and Two of this article can be found in the print edition (Published Feb. 17) of The Edgefield Advertiser, now on the stands and in the PO.
Part Three – All Public Comments Were Opposed to Land Management Ordinance
Note to readers – This section of the article has segments of quotes by26 concerned residents in attendance at the Planning Commission’s Public Comment meeting on February 11, 2021. Each person addressing the Commissioners can be heard on the video of the meeting that is posted on the County’s YouTube channel. In the following quotes, the person speaking is not identified. The reason people speaking are not identified is because it is not possible to hear and/or know how to spell their names.The Planning Commissioners voted to have all written comments submitted at the meeting posted on the County Government’s website.
The video has been viewed 891 times as of Tuesday, February 16, 2021. That number of views is almost a 600% increase in the views of the Planning Commission’s last meeting on January 27, 2021. Public comments were limited to two minutes per person unless a scheduled speaker gave another speaker their allotted time.
The complete comments can be heard on the video from 1:55:50 to 3:02:50. Fab Burt, Chairperson of the Planning Commission, said the comments had not been made in vain and the written submissions would be posted publicly.
“I chose with intent, a rural property with no zoning at the end of a dirt road when I moved to Edgefield, that I might be left to my own devices and personal liberties to be able to manage my property the way I see fit, not the way the County Government might tell me I’m allowed or is acceptable.” “Neither LMOs or zoning are mandated by State law.”
“I am strongly against any overlays in the Merriwether area except on Highway 25.”
“I was on the Planning Commission. I was the one that was fired by Councilman Cooper because I did not want Annison Pointe to be a proposed development because of the high-density drainage problems that you have in that particular area. Mr. Cooper fired me anyway because I did not do what he said. I have that documented in two phone calls and a luncheon meeting I had with Mr. Cooper.” “The Comprehensive Plan in my opinion should be the overriding document for the county and not this detailed document we have right now.”
“This is just too important for words. I respect how difficult this process is that was presented to you. It is hard, it is complicated, but please, God, don’t do it in a month and do it half way and then let the County suffer.”
“Anyone moving into Tavern Hill will be subject to smelling cattle. In addition, I say this with all due respect to the gentleman here, imagine 15 years from now if County Council Chair Scott Cooper had come down from Virginia and these ordinances were in effect, I submit to you, that those sitting in your chairs at that point most likely would not approve Mr. Cooper to have cattle on his farm because of, as the gentleman (Ford) mentioned the smell of the cattle.” “You have people on this planning commission that are making recommendations to the Council that basically have financial interests in this.”
“The areas zoned Village Residential allow apartment complexes and rehab, triplexes, quadplexes, and such.” “Anybody that may have a financial interest in any of these decisions should recuse themselves from voting on this moving forward.”
“Is the County more interested in making money or is the County more interested in having the people to have some say before everything gets ok’ed by the Planning and Zoning Commission.”
“By introducing zoning, you are taking away the core of what makes Edgefield County attractive. Many who choose to call Edgefield County home, did so trying to escape the regulations and overcrowding that can be seen in North Augusta and Columbia County.” “It’s my property and the government should not have any say in what I can build. By adding zoning, you are ultimately forcing us to sell our land. How is that fair?”
“This isn’t Evans Georgia that you are trying to ram down our throats. This isn’t North Augusta.” “Y’all ought to ask the people of Edgefield County what they need.” “If Edgefield County members aren’t happy in Edgefield County, why don’t y’all move to Evans or North Augusta?” “I’ve built many a house and these are not going to perk on these lots.”
“We moved here to be left alone.” I did not move to a rural community to have a planning commission tell me how live.” “We know how things creep. It starts in one area and it moves. It never ends.” “376 pages isasinine.”
“I would ask you to take the time to talk to people who are here. Listen to them and don’t just let them speak. Listen to what they have to say.” “Their animosity and anger that builds up is because they feel like what’s happened here was done in a manner that was not professional. It was underhanded. They feel like they have been slighted.”
“We moved here for the soul purpose of getting away from HOAs and LMOs.” “We want to raise our son in the country away from that mess.”
“I moved out of a housing development outside of Washington swamp DC, with a HOA, with neighbors up my butt, and ungodly unhappiness.” It’s become our home. It’s become our land.” “I raised my chickens, I raised my ducks, I raised my goats till they drove me crazy.” “We want to be in the country.”
“If you guys have a quorum here, why don’t one of you make a motion to throw this thing in the trash and stop it right now? Let’s see how you are going to vote on it right now,” “You stop it, no more hearings and we’ll be done with it.” “We want a vote. Who wants a vote?”
“My family has had land here for 125 years. We’ve been in the country. We’ve been alone and who the hell do y’all think you are that you can come out here and tell me what I can and can’t do on my property.” “I know two things about politicians. One is they are greedy as hell and another one is, they lie to feed their greed.”
“I just heard about this this morning and I got on there and printed this up. This is insane. Y’all have rules for your rules. I don’t even understand how you can have rules for your rules.” “This needs to go away because it is asinine.”
“I make my living developing subdivisions. I don’t do them in Edgefield because the people in Edgefield love the county life. I have bought property out here. I bought a cattle ranch. I’d like to move my family out here. I do not want to see Edgefield do what North Augusta has done.” “Bringing in an outside consultant, from Atlanta if I’m not mistaken. They don’t understand the values, they don’t understand why people are here.” “Once this cat is let of the bag you are not going to be able to get it back in and you’re going to regret it.”
“You paid $180,000 to have this schmuck come out here and tell the people in the city how they are going to live next to a farmer. Who’s going to protect the farmers from people like you.” I drive my butt to the city every day so I can pay for the land way out here in the county.” “It’s getting to the point where we have nowhere else to go. We can’t keep moving deeper in the green.”
“The agenda you have is a trickle down.” “You want to come in here and do it fast. You got a ten-year plan. Well, stop the plan.”
“You can always follow the dollar if you want to end up like Columbia County.” “I wouldn’t want to be in y’all’s shoes right now for nothing.” “These are some great people here.” “I really want you to have that empathy.” I want you to listen to these people. There are other ways to get our tax base up.”
“I’m here with some of our beekeepers as well and according to your plan on my 233 acres I can’t have bees. I can’t have goats and I can’t have chickens.” “I don’t want my property to be industrial and I don’t want my property to be commercial. I want it to be rural.”
“Why don’t the County put this on a ballot and let the public tell them what they want. That’s too much of a decision for you guys to make.” “We should make that kind of decision.” “We are the county. Not people that come up from Aiken and want to turn Edgefield into Aiken.”
“My recommendation, I’m a professional facilitator, is you get folks from the county from each zone together and let them provide input.” “You could have gotten what you paid him from them for free from the folks in the county.” “You’re shoving things down their throat. Let them be a part of what you are developing and you’ll get buy in.”
“Right now we are not zoned. We are rural agriculture. We have 27 acers of land and you are trying to make this rural large lot.” “My farm is up for sale and this affects whoever buys it.” “We can be grandfathered in but there is a clause if you don’t have animals on the property for six months, then you lose that and then you have to ask permission or get an exemption. 27 acres and you have to get permission to have chickens on it. This is ridiculous.” “It’s not even paved and you want to make it residential large lot.” “I feel the rug is being pulled out from under me.” “People are right. We can’t get this back.”
“I did not know about this until a few months ago.” Only reason I know about this is because they are wanting to put in an 800-acre solar farm next to my residence. They want to clear 1,200 acres” “They want to put it 300 feet from my house.” “Will my kids get cancer from this? I will hear a constant buzz from a solar farm all day. How will this LMO protect me and my land?”
Part Four – Five of the Planning Commissioners Share Their Perspective
Note to readers – The members of the Edgefield County Planning Commission are volunteers. They are appointed by the members of the County Council. They are not elected and they are not paid. The work these people do is hard and time consuming.
The crowd at the Public Hearing of Edgefield County’s Planning Commission meeting had begun to thin out when Commissioner Rodney Ashcroft, appointed by Councilperson Tiffani Ireland, took the floor. Ashcroft, a former County Council member, was the first of six Commissioners who addressed the remaining crowd.
Ashcraft said as a council member he had experience in dealing with the issues of the Comprehensive Plan and the Land Management Ordinance. “I never thought it would go this far, this quick,” said Ashcraft. Ashcraft said he would have to vote against the LMO based on his experience and how much he knows about the issues.
Ashcraft noted there were Planning Commission who agreed with him and everyone needed to treat the Commission with respect. He said the commissioners who opposed what was happening were probably in the minority and he asked for people not to stop their opposition.
Bret McNeil addressed the crowd next. McNeil said he appreciated all the comments and that they read them all and he had been reading them for several weeks. “Please keep in mind this is the start of this with the Planning Commission. Give us constructive comments.” said McNeil. McNeil said the views expressed at the meeting did not represent the entire county. He said they wanted the entire county’s input.
Todd Brown, appointed by Scott Cooper, spoke next. Brown said he was the commissioner for District V and he was part of one of the developments and it would be a beautiful neighborhood. Brown said he was in agreement about the speed of the process with the LMO and it was too fast. Brown said he was interested in sitting down and talking because that has not really happened.
Brown said he knows people care strongly because emotions are high. He asked people not to forget he lives in Edgefield County too. He said he grew up here, his father built the gym everyone was in, and he played church league basketball with Big Stephens Baptist Church in the gym. He said this is not an us against them situation; it was about everyone coming together to do what is best for Edgefield County.
Brown said that he views zoning as a protection and not a restriction. He said we need to be constructive about the LMO. He said his concern is that the county will be open up to any and everything that can come to the county if we don’t do something that gives some level of organization. He said he was there to listen and to understand.
Joel Presley, Commissioner At-Large, spoke next and said he wanted to echo Commissioner Brown’s statements. He shared that if the LMO was implemented as it is now, he would focus his personal business efforts elsewhere. Presley said he loves small farms and small farms and small businesses is what he cares about.
Presley said his land would be affected and he has concerns. He said he could not understand how placing 90% of the county in rural agriculture, conservation, and small uses puts someone in a position to develop land. Presley shared he was a member and a supporter of three major conservation groups in the Southeast. He said he has helped put hundreds of acres into conservation so they could not be developed.
Presley said when he does work with development, that they often place part of the property developed into conservation. He said he was open and had spent the last two weeks reaching out to people in Edgefield County asking for input. He said he is a strong property rights advocate and anything that they can do to make sure people can do what they want on their land he was in favor.
Presley said the challenge is coming up with something that allowed people to do what they want with their land. He said it can be hard to give one person complete freedom to do what they want with their land and then tell another person they can’t have a solar farm on their land. “We’re looking at how we can do that,” said Pressley. He said if things are left as they are, there is nothing the county can do stop certain things. He stressed the Planning Commission cannot vote. He stated they can only recommend the LMO to the County Council and the council votes.
The last Commissioner who spoke was Tracy Hamilton who was appointed by District III Councilperson, Dean Campbell. Hamilton stated she had not seen any residents from her district at the meeting.
She stated she understood where people in attendance were coming from. She said she does not speak often, but that did not mean she disagreed with the opinions of the people in attendance. “We aren’t making the decisions. If we could throw it away, I probably would throw it away,” said Hamilton.
She said that was not an option so it was important for people to come together and try to find a way to make this work. “It can work if we work together,” said Hamilton. Hamilton said that people acting ugly was unproductive. She said she is a County resident too, and she wanted to do what was best for the County. She asked people to give the Commission a chance to do its job.