The parking lot outside Greenville County Council headquarters at University Ridge was unusually crowded with vehicles the morning of Saturday, May 1.
While the rest of the complex was quiet, a large crowd had gathered inside council chambers for a last-minute community meeting to discuss an increasingly controversial land development rule.
That rule, known as Article 3.1 of the county’s land development regulations is just 60 words in all, but far more words have been spoken on its behalf in recent months. That includes legal language, as six lawsuits have now been filed on behalf of developers seeking to overturn the rule and proceed with development projects that have been rejected on the rule’s behalf.
Article 3.1 states that potential developments must meet the following rules:
- Adequate existing infrastructure and transportation systems must exist to support the project.
- The project must be compatible with the surrounding land-use density.
- The project must be compatible with the site’s environmental conditions, such as but not limited to, wetlands, flooding, endangered species and/or habitat and historic sites and/or cemeteries.
Saturday’s meeting was held after Council Chairman Willis Meadows proposed a repeal of the rule, prompting stern backlash from community members.
At Saturday’s meeting, speaker after speaker arose to voice their concern over the rules and its possible replacement. Dozens in the audience held up signs that read “Replace Not Repeal,” a reference to their argument that the rule’s repeal without a proper replacement could usher in unwieldy development in the most rural and natural pockets of the county.
At the heart of the debate is a tug-of-war between the rights of individual property owners and the rights of a community to protect itself from unwanted development.
“We have a movement that is going beyond just looking at pro-development and the ability of a person to build on their property whatever they want to build,” said Thomas Faulkner, who addressed the council on behalf of the Friends of Lake Robinson. “That’s certainly a respectable concern but it cannot be the only concern. You as our council members must balance pro-development and the ability to get more property taxes with the concerns of our community.”
“Please, please, let’s not have an Atlanta,” Faulkner added.
Homebuilders Association of Greenville Vice President of Government Affairs Michael Dey urged council not to attempt to use regulations in place of a zoning ordinance. Roughly 60% of Greenville County is not zoned, Dey said, and with 200,000 new residents expected in the county by 2040, county leaders need to prepare for that impending housing demand.
Dey compared the relatively minimal language of Article 3.1 to the 200 pages of land development regulations that the county had been working on between 2012 and 2016, which served as the precursor to Article 3.1.
“You have 200 pages of ordinance that were replaced with three sentences,” Dey said. “We had [Article 3.1] reviewed by our legal team in Washington and were told it was unconstitutionally vague.”
The meeting last week was only a chance for citizens to voice their opinion on the matter. Any formal developments will commence at council’s meeting later in May.