Spartanburg County Council’s Lost Decade

Spartanburg County Council is contemplating entry into the modern era of land-use planning. As Yogi Berra so famously said, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

You see, talk of Spartanburg County land-use planning is nothing new. It came up here a decade ago. There’s talk now of a referendum in November with a single question to see which way the land-use winds are blowing.

Ten years ago “there were 20 percent who wanted it, 20 percent who didn’t, and the rest didn’t care.” That’s how chairman Jeff Horton remembers the last discussion about land-use planning. And who did the council listen to then? “The plan was watered down toward the end of the process,” Horton said.

At last Thursday’s open meeting of the council’s land-use committee, with Jeff Horton at the helm, it was obvious that most on the council now senses the numbers might have shifted in the lost decade. “I’m hearing loud and clear that the people want some land use planning,” David Britt said as he listened to the proceedings. That 20 percent who are for tough land-use planning might be up to 30 percent or even 60 percent. Nobody knows for sure.

So ten years ago why did council listen to the 20 percent who didn’t want a strong land use plan?

Could it be because when the question of how to manage growth in Spartanburg came up a decade ago the deepest ties on the council were to developers and home builders?

Was it was because Frank Nutt was seated on the council at that time? Nutt’s one of the county’s most successful homebuilders and a long-time regulation hater. Maybe he was instrumental in steering the discussion toward the 20 percent who were opposed to planning.

Maybe it was simply fear of change, an emotion that is known to be deep in the psyche of Southerners.

But now Mr. Nutt’s on the outside, and the seated council is faced once more with the issue of who to listen to. The fear factor should have diminished some in the last decade as we stand as one of the only metropolitan counties in creation with no real land-use planning on the books.

The committee had invited Jim Rozier, former Berkeley County Supervisor and old friend of councilman David Britt, to share his county’s experience with land-use planning. Listening to Rozier it was obvious that eighteen years with land-use planning in Berkeley County has not spelled the end of civilization as they know it in spite of what some special interest groups in Spartanburg would have us believe.

What Rozier had to say about zoning was positive. They’ve been tough. They’ve included everybody. And they implemented a zoning plan that was simple and effective.

Councilman Dale Culbreth expressed fear his constituents think we’re rushing into something here in Spartanburg.

Rozier pointed out that he’d given the same briefing about land-use to the Spartanburg County Council over a decade ago, and we’re still “testing the waters.”

In the council’s lost decade Spartanburg County has seen the willy-nilly arrival of subdivisions, trailer parks, golf courses, commercial and industrial development-all sited and approved according to lax planning. Only three years ago the county dodged the biggest land-use bullet of all-a new Waste Management megadump in the southern county. If we had a land-use plan with teeth, the mother of all garbage haulers would never have glanced Spartanburg’s way.

The indication from the whole meeting is that it’s time to act.

It’s up to those citizens in favor of tough land-use planning to raise our voices now. Maybe it’s time for letter-writing, radio spots, and rallies. It definitely time for local politicians to speak up, take positions and lead rather than yield once again to the persuasion of special interests and friends.

I for one would like to see that referendum, binding or nonbinding. I think it would give a good indication on how much Jeff Horton’s numbers have changed in ten years.

If it’s nonbinding, let’s keep the question we ask Spartanburg County simple. Here’s a suggestion: “Should Spartanburg County Council institute a responsible land-use plan that can be enforced?”

And don’t use the “Z” word. That’s a sign to us on this side that council’s still listening too closely to the other minority.

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