Editorial: It's time once again to consider land use
The ear-splitting sounds you heard last Tuesday evening might well have been heads exploding in the South Harper St. Extension area near Laurens – home of some of the most vocal and virulent opposition to zoning/land use/planning in Laurens County. Laurens County Council voted 5-0 (Dianne Anderson and Stewart Jones were absent) to hire a Clemson University grad student for two semesters to come up with a study showing where development is likely to occur in the county. It’s a bold move by council and one that we welcome and applaud. But, no matter how much lipstick you put on that pig, council is admitting the need for and tentatively endorsing restrictions for how land can be used. The idea will not set well universally. In fact, those who need it most will be the most opposed. Remember in the last zoning referendum (before the “land use” euphemism was adopted), the proposal passed in the municipalities which already have very strict guidelines for what can and cannot go in certain areas of town. Clinton has a group (and we assume Laurens does, too) that has to approve what color paint is used in any building or house in the historic preservation district. Understand, we think a review by citizens after receiving a recommendation from planning and development professional is a wise thing that strengthens our community. We should have a say about what type of development/manufacturing/agriculture/recreation is going in a specific area of the county. But our fellow citizens have spoken often and loudly. They don’t like the idea even a little bit. Perhaps this is a signal that opinions are changing and opposition is weakening at least enough to find a compromise. We hope so. Usually, open discussion of land use restrictions comes about because of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). Proclaiming your opposition to any type of land use is fine and dandy until somebody decides to throw up a business you find offensive in your neighborhood. Remember the fight the folks up around Martin’s Lake near Gray Court had to keep out a landfill. They won the battle in court, but the war isn’t over. Without zoning/land use, County Council is virtually powerless to stop anything from building anywhere outside the cities. Laurens County Administrator Jon Caime proposed that council allow him to use $6,000 in contingency funds to hire a Clemson student (Gamecocks need not apply) to map out where development areas are now and where expanded development areas likely are going to be in the future, according to a Page 1 story today. Caime wants whatever growth comes to Laurens County to be what residents want. “Where is the agriculture? Where is the residential, the industrial? And where do we want them to be?” Caime asked council rhetorically. The study put together by the grad student should answer those questions. What areas of the county should remain rural? Those need to be identified, the administrator said. “It’s important so we don’t put infrastructure in the wrong place.” The more restrictive the land use that’s in place, the most expensive the housing that is built there. There’s no disputing that. But we are sure our county leaders recognize the need for areas of low-income and moderate-income housing. Everyone can’t live in a $300,000 house at Lake Greenwood (which may now be built next to a $10,000 house that’s little more than an outbuilding). People with all levels of income deserve the availability of adequate, affordable housing. Developers are hesitant to build housing communities in Laurens County because of a fear of what may end up across a rural highway. If Laurens County ever does develop a zoning ordinance, it must be strictly enforced while, at the same time, being flexible. There is no zoning law that can be written to cover any contingency. For instance, the Clinton zoning ordinance restricts the central business district to commercial businesses, but it allows residential apartments over those businesses – or in the case of one downtown business, an apartment below the business. Caime said Laurens County has planned for no growth and that’s what we’ve gotten. But growth is coming. Greenville County has reached its boundaries and one of those boundaries is Laurens County. We must begin now if we’re going to have things in place in time. We just hope we’re not too late.