Some County residents were turned away from Edgefield County’s Planning Commission Public Hearing on the development of the Land Management Ordinance. (LMO) The Edgefield Advertiser has published numerous articles over the past two months explaining different perspectives on the changes in County’s Comprehensives Plan, the petition to change it back to its original wording, and the development of the County’s LMO.
This article is written in four sections. The article’s sections are: Part 1, how the meeting was organized, Part 2, what is the County government’s position as explained by the consultant who has helped develop the Comprehensive Plan and the LMO, Part 3, the comments made by the public at the meeting, and Part 4, the comments shared by the members of the Planning Commission at the end of the meeting.
Part One – Meeting Site for Planning Commission Could Not Hold for Number Trying to Attend
Sweetwater Baptist Church opened its gym on Thursday, February 11, 2021 so County residents could gather to hear the County Government’s position on the Land Management Ordinance. (LMO) The Planning Commission meeting was also a public hearing for County residents to voice their positions regarding the LMO.
“I was rejected and not allowed to attend the meeting,” said Daisy Meisinger Percival. Percival said she was handed a piece of paper with a radio frequency at the door and was told she could listen to the meeting on a radio station in her car.
Percival said the excuse they gave for not letting her in was the virus. As she arrived at the door of the gym, she noticed close to twenty people leaving and was confused. She said she was wondering what was going on. She said as she and other people were told they could not enter, automobiles were still pulling in with people wanting to attend the meeting.
Percival said she did not listen to the meeting on her radio because she could not hear John Ford, the consultant hired by the county to help develop the Comprehensive Plan and the LMO. There were technical difficulties with Ford’s microphone as he started his presentation, but they were fixed quickly by providing him a microphone that worked.
Dr. Paul W. Noe, Sweetwater Baptist Church pastor, began the meeting with a prayer and reminding the over 200 people in the church’s gym that they were at a church. He asked the crowd to act with respect and to be mindful of the social distancing and mask wearing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mask wearing and social distancing requests were ignored by a significant number of those who were allowed in the gym.
The County’s administration made the decision to move the meeting from the County Council Chambers to a larger space due to the anticipated large crowd. The county administration worked with Reverend Brian Ayes of Sweetwater Baptist to provide the sound system for the meeting. People inside the gym could clearly hear what was said. All comments on the live stream video posted by the County Administration can also be heard.
Ayers said he and his team had a speaker in the parking lot for people to listen to the meeting. He also said the meeting was live streamed and the radio frequency the meeting was broadcast on had a range of one mile. He noted that the chairs in the gym were arranged six feet apart.
As with the Planning Commission’s last meeting, the County administration did not have the Planning Commissioners seated six feet apart. Six feet social distancing is recommended by SC DHEC along with the CDC. One commissioner expressed concern over social distancing of Commission members after the group’s last meeting on January 27, 2021.
In new business, the Planning Commission voted 7-0 to approved a subdivision named Annslee Cove, Parcel ID 163-00-01-091-000. The subdivision is on Woodward Lake Road and is being developed by JSMG Development.
Part Two – Consultant Calls for More Rooftops in Edgefield County
John Ford can be heard on the video of the February11, 2021 Planning Commission Work Session and Meeting. Ford speaks from minute 1:10:21 to 1:51:55. The video can be found on YouTube by searching February11, 2021 Planning Commission and Work Session. Edgefield County’s draft Land Management Ordinance (LMO) is a large and complex document. Questions, comments, or concerns can be directed to the County’s Planner, Kevin Singletary. (803-637-4073 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
After some audio difficulties, John Ford, the consultant hired by the Edgefield County Government, addressed the crowd gathered in the Sweetwater Baptist gym. Ford said the changes to the language of the County’s Comprehensive Plan affected the suburban residential part of the plan.
Ford stressed that the Land Management Ordinance (LMO) was a draft and County residents’ input was wanted and needed. He said the purpose of the LMO is to provide guidance for development within the existing and future needs of the county.
“The heart of a lot of what it is, is the zoning,” explained Ford. Ford said the intent of the LMO is to gather all the county’s existing ordinances and codes and put them in one document with updated language. He said having everything in one document would make it easier to use and to read. Ford said the land development portion of the draft LMO is 108 pages with 33 additional amendments. Ford said the County and Planning Commission is aware there are many issues to be resolved.
“There are no restrictions on primary use if the property is not zoned including high impact uses,” said Ford. Ultimately the county ordinances will not be in compliance with the Comprehensive Plan which is required by state planning law. Ford said the problem comes down to any decisions made about land use could be overturned by the courts if the County’s codes and its Comprehensive Plan are not compatible and in compliance.
Ford said if zoning is not provided, the County’s current codes do not confront the challenges of development pressures in Edgefield County. He said Edgefield County would be considered a rural county, but because it is on the edge of Augusta it is considered suburban. He noted that Augusta is growing faster than other areas in the Southeast.
Ford reviewed the timeline of the development of the County’s Comprehensive Plan and the development of the draft LMO. He said the intent is to complete all edits in March and then send it to the County Council. The Council would have its first public reading of the LMO in April and could approve the document on its third reading in June.
Ford said the County is in the process of identifying problems in the existing code, reviewing and diagnosing how it can be written better and identify the community feedback for recommended updates. “Feedback is what we are really looking for,” said Ford. He explained the LMO is expected to continually evolve with recommendations from the Planning Commission and the County Council.
Ford said the purpose of the LMO was to promote growth around town centers and protect the look of the Martintown and Sweetwater Road corridors. “We want to protect the rural agricultural residential character on the North side of the county,” said Ford. He stated there is a need to protect the towns. “We also need to see rooftops if we are going to see commercial growth,” added Ford.
The consultant said the LMO impacts residential development and there are still questions to be resolved.
He explained from an urban planner perspective, the development in the County is very low density.
Ford discussed the twelve chapters of the LMO. He said Chapter two is a primary use table for zoning categories and is based on federal codes for occupations and land uses. He said NAICS Codes are commonly used in a matrix to determine is a primary use is appropriate and the zoning to be used. Ford stressed that the matrix in Chapter Two is a draft, “There’s a lot of information in this ordinance. An awful amount,” noted Ford.
Ford noted presently only 20% of Edgefield County is zoned. “The majority of the county is not proposed to be highly developed at this time,” said Ford. He stressed they want the public to provide constructive input to the Planning Commission regarding issues and solutions that are right for Edgefield County.
The reader will find Parts 3 and 4 on our website. (www.edgefieldadvertiser.com) Part 3 provides segments of comments made by the public at the meeting and Part 4 has comments made by several Planning Commissioners after the public comment portion of the meeting was over.
Part Three – All Public Comments Were Opposed to Zoning Proposed in Land Management Ordinance
Note to readers – This section of the article has segments of quotes by 26 concerned residents in attendance at the Planning Commission’s Public Comment meeting. 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.” “Ya’ll ought to ask the people of Edgefield County what they need.” “If Edgefield County members aren’t happy in Edgefield County, why don’t ya’ll 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 is asinine.”
“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 ya’ll 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. Ya’ll 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 ya’lls 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 acers 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 is 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.