August 16, 2021

Michael Martinez, Upstate Staff Attorney

County Council Must Protect What Makes Greenville Special

Greenville County is home to the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, critical waterways like the Reedy, Enoree, and Saluda Rivers, and increasingly rare farmland. These features help explain why the county is one of the fastest growing in South Carolina, with more than 200,000 additional residents anticipated over the next two decades.

New development is burning through the county’s rural and unzoned areas, and our 2019 Comprehensive Plan recognized this unrelenting pressure: “Current land development practices pose a threat to the abundance and quality of Greenville County’s natural resources and environment.”

In other words, if development is allowed to continue unabated, we could lose what makes Greenville attractive to the many people who choose to live, work, and play here. On Tuesday, County Council will make a crucial decision on whether Greenville will continue this path.

County Council will hold the third and final reading of county staff’s proposed replacement for Article 3.1, an inconsistently applied land use rule that has been subject to disputes and lawsuits, including several brought by my own organization.  

At this meeting, council members will vote on county staff’s replacement ordinance, which calls for new rural conservation subdivision design standards with required open space, continued protection for rare species, and requirements for residential developers to share in the cost of infrastructure improvements necessitated by their developments. The ordinance’s requirement for preservation of 30 percent of a parcel as open space is a good step, but it already represents a compromise from model conservation subdivision standards. County Council must not weaken it any further.

This ordinance strikes a necessary balance between conservation of open spaces and residential growth. Just as importantly, staff’s replacement ordinance is broadly supported by Greenville residents. Residents packed council chambers at the last public hearing on this topic and gave impassioned pleas to ensure the advancement of staff’s proposed ordinance over a woefully inadequate ordinance that unjustly benefitted developers and eliminated meaningful open space protection.

Rural communities want to stay rural. Builders want to build. Under the county staff’s replacement ordinance, these would not be mutually exclusive ideas.  

Yet, development interests are working hard to further weaken staff’s replacement ordinance. Council members have proposed amendments that would benefit only development interests and directly reject the preservation of rural areas and natural resources the community wants and the Comprehensive Plan recommended.

Amendment #4—and by extension, Amendment #1 through its incorporation of all three amendments—is a particularly egregious alteration of staff’s recommendations. Amendment #4 drastically changes the open space requirements for conservation subdivisions. Instead of a minimum 30% open space, the amendment establishes a sliding scale dependent on the average lot size in the development, and the highest open space percentage for the highest density developments is still below the staff’s requirement. The 30% open space requirement staff proposed is already a compromise of typical conservation subdivisions ordinances.

If Council adopts this amendment, the result will be unrestrained and fiscally irresponsible residential sprawl into unzoned, undeveloped areas of the County. The community’s voice and presence at the public hearing was critical to the reinstatement of staff’s proposed ordinance and the prevention of a grossly inadequate ordinance. Your presence at the reading is just as significant.

The road to a replacement for Article 3.1 has been long and winding, but it is nearing its critical end. Join me in urging County Council to adopt the staff’s recommended replacement ordinance without any harmful amendments and protect what makes Greenville special.

Michael Martinez is SCELP's Upstate Staff Attorney.

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