In a rural area where concerned citizens petitioned against zoning laws,
a developer is challenging the county’s Comprehensive Plan
by exceeding density guidelines—and asking for the removal of commissioners who object.
Meanwhile, a public hearing November 9th
may flip the power structure in County Planning.
By Katharine Walton
A local, veteran real estate development company has filed challenges not just against Edgefield County, Edgefield County Council, and the Edgefield County Planning Commission—but also the four of the seven County Council-appointed commissioners, who voted against a proposal to build a subdivision exceeding density guidelines by 25 percent. The “appeal” requests that those who voted against the proposal be removed and states that damages exceed $250,000.
“The focus on individuals make this unusual,” said County Administrator David Caddell. “It’s important to note though that mediation has been requested.”
As the County Planning Commission’s approval process is now structured, the County Council appoints volunteers to a seven-person commission (representing all five county districts, plus two extras at large). As is, the committee vote can override staff recommendations, explained Hart “Doc” Clark, Planning Director, who has served the county for 20 years. Of the dwindling South Carolina counties that maintain this similar structure, Clark cites nearby Hampton, Abbeville, and Laurens.
During thepublic hearing scheduled for the monthly meeting on Thursday, November 9, a movement will be proposed to flip this decision-making structure, so that Clark’s Planning Commission staff has the final say. (Though if a development is denied, it would be the commissioners who would hear the appeal.)
Clark said he had recommended to the committee that they go ahead and approve this subdivision in question, due to the lack of zoning. “Zoning is law and the Comprehensive Plan is guidance,” he said.
But the commission went ahead and rejected the proposal despite staff recommendations.
Clark is also a proponent of zoning that he said would have prevented this situation to begin with.
Blue Sky Properties v. Edgefield County
This legal action underscores an underlying battle between those who aim to keep the county rural and those wanting to open doors to more development.
To answer Blue Sky v. Edgefield County, the South Carolina Association of Counties (the insurance division of the SCAC) has appointed attorney Will Davidson of Davidson & Wren, confirmed Mary-Kathryn Craft of the SCAC.
Attorney Davidson will work withthe county’s attorney Andrew Marine and represent not just the county, but the four individuals who are named, confirmed Caddell.
Of the four who rejected the subdivision proposal —Karlene Butler, Sharon Hadden, Rhonda Nowicki and Tracy Walsh—only Nowicki lives in what’s known as district two, the district that encompasses Sweetwater and the proposed development.
The appeal cites communication sent out by Nowicki to a concerned citizens e-mail list and Facebook group as evidence of bias and Ex Parte communication, which includes giving opinion on a proposal, outside of a public hearing.
Examples given for bias included such quoted text as “sign up to speak” and “voice your concerns during the public hearing” and “silence is consent.”
Such concerned citizens. who petitioned against zoning in district two. are some of the same people who don’t want the subdivision in district two.
“Those who don’t want zoning find it scary to put restrictions on their land,” Clark said. “These same people don’t want the subdivision. They want the county to stay rural in its current nature.”
Blue Sky and Trestle Run
Blue Sky Developers, LLC is the company challenging the density guidance. David Thompson and Stuart Thompson are father and son, developer and builder, who live in district two, near to the proposed development, Trestle Run.
When Blue Sky built Annison Pointe, a higher-dollar subdivision, it was initially proposed with a higher density but the developer agreed to reduce the number of houses to meet county guidelines, Clark said.
Trestle Run proposes 254 units on 97 acres, a mix of 126 townhouses and 128 stand-alone houses. The 97-acre parcel is just behind the address of 1345 Stephens Road, in Sweetwater, said Clark. The owner of the parcel, James E. Miller, is also named as appellant, along with Blue Sky.
The proposal denied is for 2.5 units per acre—that’s a 25 percent increase over the two homes per acre that the Planning Commission recommended for density in its 2019 Comprehensive Plan.
The 25 percent increase is a business decision that could make more money for the developers and/or lower costs for buying a new home, bringing in perhaps 25 percent more people than the Comprehensive Plan recommends per acre to comfortably file into Highway 20, navigate the back roads, and make way to popular spots, like the new Chik-fil-A.
Hard-to-resist convenience foods and new homes loom large in the fields at the edge of the county.
Growth questions remain: Will the subdivision Trestle Run be approved after the mediation of Blue Sky v. Edgefield County? What precedent would that set? Would a developer’s win encourage zoning approval? Will the Thursday, November 9, public hearing clear the way for a restructured Planning Commission?