Open Letter to Spartanburg County Council

Last week I was among those who received an email from a Spartanburg County government staffer, saying “your County Councilmember … suggested that you may have valuable input about potential improvements to the county’s land development regulations.”

I am flattered that you would ask my advice, even in a bulk mail manner.

As you probably know if you have read this column for three years, we have not had an easy relationship. I have never been a booster for what I’ve seen as your collective avoidance of our spiraling land use problems in Spartanburg County. I have not been an admirer of what seemed to me your determined effort to table any meaningful action on land use. You couldn’t even bring it to a vote.

I’m a teacher, and if I had to give the Spartanburg County Councils I’ve observed a grade on land use issues it would be a D.

I’ve often simply dismissed your obstinate behavior and attributed it to your desire not to complicate the business affairs of your numerous government-hating libertarian friends, but I know several of you personally and therefore I know it’s not that simple.

Some of you want change and listen to other minority positions beyond those of your constituents who still believe Ronald Reagan’s shopworn assertion that government is the problem.

If Reagan was right, then you, as those doing the governing, are the problem.
I didn’t ever believe Reagan was right. I believe good governance is the solution, or at least the best solution we have in a democracy. If this county is going to change right now, it’s going to change because of your will and intelligence and action, not mine.

With all that in mind, it has been very interesting the past few weeks watching the County Council gyrations around the building of a Dollar General Store in the Ben Avon neighborhood on the east side of Spartanburg, a problem I might add that could have been avoided five or six County Councils ago had meaningful land use regulation been put into place.

Someone as far back as County Council chairs David Dennis or Karen Floyd could have pushed through a plan that would have grandfathered in the former country store across the street (now a mini-mart) and made the rest of Country Club Road residential for perpetuity. But they didn’t believe in regulation. They believed the free market, if left to sort thing out, would solve all our land use problems.

Well, the market has been sorting. Look where we are now. After years of meaningless consultant hours, town meetings and work sessions we seem to be back at zero, sending out emails asking for advice.

It’s clear from the language of the email that you still want to avoid a discussion of “land use.” Your email uses the term “land development regulations” instead-scaling back any hope you might give us a comprehensive plan.

“The council has directed County staff to bring forward a recommendation in a month, which of course means we must move very quickly,” the email adds.

My advice? Govern. Propose and pass something meaningful. Make a stand. Disappear for a week and come back with some backbone and change our future and make it better. Propose a county-wide comprehensive plan that’s not a band-aid regulation package.

Regulations about buffers and setbacks will do little to assure the health of our streams. Rules about signs and landscaping will do nothing to avoid the sprawl issues of Greenville, Atlanta, and Charlotte in our future.

This hasn’t ever been simply about property values and happy neighbors or whether air conditioning units have screening. Get beyond design standards and Dollar General Store, and do something significant and brave about land use.

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