Triple Bogey or Hole in One?

This past week a $100 million redevelopment plan was announced for the Lan Yair golf course on Spartanburg’s Halfway Branch, one of the largest tributaries of Lawson’s Fork Creek. Halfway Branch rises just north of East Main Street. The unassuming creek and several bold streams that feed it were dammed long ago to form the old ponds of the golf course.

Downstream from the golf course Halfway Branch flows past the already established asphalt glory of the east side Wal-Mart and through the Hillbrook subdivision where there’s another larger lake on one of its tributaries. After Halfway Branch crosses Fernwood Glendale Road, it skirts an apartment complex and enters the larger Lawson’s Fork. I’ve never been sure what it’s halfway between. Glendale and Whitney maybe?

As waterways go, Halfway Branch isn’t much to look at. After all, it’s a branch, not a creek, stream, or a river. Being a branch it has a sort of old-fashioned feel to it, like something yearning for an earlier time. You can easily drive right past it if you’re obeying the speed limit on your way up US 29 to Wal-Mart to stock up on toilet paper or sushi or tires. You can miss it if you’re on a mission to get your nails done or a payday loan or make an essential stop at the Dollar Store.

The Lan Yair fairways and greens are now gone to old field succession. For several years I’ve noticed people have been fishing there in a pond closest to the road, trespassing on this property before the bulldozers arrive and tidy things up. I’ll bet there are some good bream feeding in those murky waters on the outskirts of town.

Before it was a golf course Lan Yair was most likely a peach farm, as much of Spartanburg County once was. Before that, it was subsistence farm fields and piedmont forest with a creek meandering through it. Landscapes change, especially landscapes grown closer and closer to hordes of Americans with credit cards.

An old-style golf course like Lan Yair once kept green and weed-free by pesticides and herbicides is nothing to get nostalgic about, but I have to admit I will miss the 200 acres of “open space” north of the Wal-Mart when it’s filled in. On the acceptable scale of human use of the natural world golf courses are aesthetically a notch or two above big box stores with parking lots the size of Union County.

Is it a good thing for Halfway Branch that Lan Yair will soon become Easton MarketPlace? Probably not. Is this redevelopment a hole in one? It’s all in your point of view and how you feel about healthy watersheds.

For the three developers investing there it’s a risky chance to make some money. All they have to do is look at Hillcrest Shopping Center down the road to see that east side Spartanburg retail isn’t a sure thing.

For the struggling Spartanburg tax base, it’s a hole in one.

For the east side consumers, it offers up more choices. Case in point: I’m a writer. If the Barnes & Noble rumored to have signed a lease at Easton MarketPlace is a reality, there will soon be more book buying options closer to home.

What about Halfway Branch and the Lawson’s Fork downstream? All you have to do is look upstream at the Chinquapin watershed (the creek that looks like a drainage ditch running parallel to Pine Street) to see what progress can do to an urban stream. It’s almost dead, with little aquatic life. Motor oil from parking lots and highways pollutes its waters. There’s a Taco Bell built and a gas station on top of it.

Twenty years from now will Halfway Branch be in better shape? We can only hope that by annexing the Lan Yair property and applying their large tract and riparian ordinances, the city can protect the creek from a similar fate.

I’m not anti-development. I’m just anti dumb-development. I’m willing to accept development or redevelopment. Bring on Easton MarketPlace. Bring on the Barnes and Noble and the Olive Garden, but bring it on with a more serious responsibly toward our land and water.

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