Sometimes the most important issues affecting Greenville County are also the least discussed.
Recently, one such issue came before Greenville County Council, an issue that some council members themselves admit “not a lot of county residents know about.”
“I think we could go around and knock on a hundred doors and not find a handful that know we’re doing this,” said Councilman Rick Roberts. “It could have the biggest impact on their land.”
Not only would the issue affect landowners in rural areas, it could arguably also have the most drastic impact on what the county’s rural areas look like in the coming decade — or if those areas even exist at all.
The issue at hand is an ordinance to amend the county’s Land Development Regulations, which would require that any home built in the county’s rural areas — which are not currently zoned — must have a lot size of 2 acres or more. This would only apply to residences, so businesses or manufacturing facilities would not be affected.
But that seemingly simple requirement has stirred up controversy. Some view the potential ordinance as a positive solution to stave off urban sprawl and minimize density in Greenville’s urban areas. Others view it as malicious backdoor zoning that infringes upon property rights.
To further complicate matters, the idea to put the 2-acre minimum in place first came about in the county’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan. All counties and cities in the state must pass an updated comprehensive plan each decade, but such plans are more like vision statements, guidelines rather than strict laws.
Greenville County’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan, which was meant to specifically address increased population and sprawl over the coming decade, was formed with the input of hundreds of county residents and was approved unanimously by county council.
Important to note, that 2-acre minimum for dwellings in rural areas was included in the unanimously approved comprehensive plan. This ordinance is the county’s first step to put some legal power behind the comprehensive plan.
It is, therefore, a test of whether or not that comprehensive plan has actual teeth or not.
Where things stand now
Council members debated the ordinance at the Planning and Development Committee meeting on Monday, Aug. 31.
Councilman Roberts put up the strongest rebuke of the proposed ordinance.
“What I hear from people in these unzoned rural areas is they don’t want government telling them what to do,” Roberts said.
Roberts posed hypothetical situations to express his concerns, such as a county resident with 3.9 acres wishing to build an additional home for a son or daughter to move into. “They couldn’t do that if this passes,” he said.
He also mentioned affordable housing, warning that the county would be “taking 60% of our land and making it unbuildable as far as any kind of affordable housing goes.”
His biggest concern, however, was the impact on landowners.
“People don’t know their land is being drastically cut value-wise,” Roberts added. “I love green space and trees, but I don’t like pulling the rug out from landowners. Somebody’s eating dinner tonight, not knowing that if we move forward with this, they could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in the value of their land without even being aware of it.”
Speaking in support of the ordinance, County Council Chairman Butch Kirven said it would “merely create some consistency with the comprehensive plan that was unanimously approved last year after a lengthy process of public input.”
Kirven said the current regulations allow for such wide discretion that it is negatively impacting the ability to invest in the area.
“Nobody really knows what it is, and it’s hard to plan if you’re going to invest money and don’t know what’s going to become of the area,” he said, “or if you’re a citizen and want to know what’s going to be put up in your area. Right now, nobody has any idea at all.”
Saying the ordinance is “not a drastic change, but just something that adds clarity and can be adjusted at any time,” Kirven argued it would be a “good faith attempt” to match what citizens agreed upon and council members approved in the comprehensive plan. He called the plan an issue of “residential density” and “dealing with sprawl” rather than governmental overreach.
For now, the debate is at a standstill. The ordinance was held in committee indefinitely, with no time frame established for further action.