July 10, 2008
Spartanburg, S.C., Land Use Panel to Look at Zoning Issues
By Jason Spencer, Herald-Journal, Spartanburg, S.C.
Jul. 10--A three-man committee of Spartanburg County Council officials will hold a special meeting a 1 p.m. today, a potential first step in putting a sure-to-be controversial referendum about zoning and land-use regulation on the November ballot.
The Land Use Committee -- which consists of Chairman Jeff Horton and Councilmen Rock Adams and Tom Foster -- will hear about how other counties, particularly Berkeley and Anderson, have handled zoning issues, and then decide whether the idea of a binding referendum should go before the full council later this month.
Elected officials and administrators have spent months working with a consultant to catalogue Spartanburg County's existing land-use ordinances, trading feedback that will shape the recommendations that will eventually come from the consultant.
Horton hopes that a referendum, if it comes to that, will spur enough people to voice their opinion, rather than waiting for a NIMBY -- a "not in my back yard" problem, because at that point, it's often too late.
"Ten years ago, on the first land use plan, it was watered down tremendously. And we've been paying for that ever since," Horton said. "So, hopefully, this will give us the guidance we need, and we will stand true to the changes the people want to see in their future. If we don't, we'll be addressing this in another 10 years. Another NIMBY will arrive, and we will not have any teeth to combat that issue."
Questions for ballot referendums must be submitted to the county election office by noon Aug. 15.
That leaves little time for administrators to draw up a simple referendum question on a subject that is anything but simple.
"One of the challenges, really, is going to be the education part of it," County Administrator Glenn Breed said. "Zoning and land use and all these different terms are very complicated. You've got to be knowledgeable of the process if you're going to make an educated vote."
In other words, a voter needs to know more about whether they want the government to tell them what they can do on their property. They need to at least be aware of issues like road connectivity, open-space conservation, population density, rural preservation, and the separation of residential and commercial areas.
One idea that will at least be talked about today is implementing zoning specific to certain areas -- a council district, perhaps, or even a voting precinct.
Public meetings are planned throughout Spartanburg as information sessions about the referendum, should the council go in that direction.
Councilmen who seem to favor making this a ballot initiative say that it will give the public a chance to set the direction, or parameters, as to how they should proceed early next year, when the land-use plan that will govern the county for the next decade will be drawn up and completed.
"We don't have a couple years to decide," Councilman David Britt said. "We don't have that much time. We don't want another Boiling Springs to occur. And, we can't jeopardize the future of Spartanburg by guessing what people want. If people want us to back off and not go the direction we want, we need to know that. And if they want us to continue, and put the pedal to the metal, we'll do that. This is about expediting the process."
Britt believes much of the noise about land-use planning comes from a few small but vocal groups. A referendum, he says, would give the council a broader view about how the public feels.
"I don't think that's a real good way to make public policy. It's a very complicated issue. It would amaze me if you could get a ballot question out there that could cover the topic," said Manning Lynch, a residential developer.
"Everybody wants to regulate other people's property. But very few people want other people to regulate their property. And that's the problem. This is a real touchy subject. I think that's what they're trying to get at. But it would amaze me if you could boil this down to a ballot question."
Today's meeting is slated to take place in the conference room at the county administration building on Church Street. In case of a crowd, it will move to the full council chambers.
If the matter does go before the full council, which next meets July 21, it can be decided by a single vote.
A public hearing is not required, though Horton and Britt said they welcome input from people -- and expect to get some as early as today.
"I live in Boiling Springs. I like Boiling Springs. But when I talk to people in outlying areas -- Chesnee, Pauline, Enoree, Campobello -- they don't want their area to look like Boiling Springs. And there's no way to prevent that with our current land-use ordinances," Horton said.
"Congestion. Unsightly signs and billboards. Rural preservation is intact now, but whenever growth heads in that direction, will they be able to have a say? That's been the biggest bone of contention that the public has. They have an issue that arises and they really don't have an avenue to vent as it stands right now. They really don't have an input into how a developer will handle a certain project."
Horton also said stronger land-use regulations can help protect the county from the possibility of landfills coming to the area in the future.
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Copyright (c) 2008, Herald-Journal, Spartanburg, S.C.
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