Thank you to all who called, e-mailed, and came out during tornado warnings to support protection of greenspace in rural Greenville County.
Unfortunately Council voted with the devlopers and against the citizens they represent to gut open space protections from the ordinance.
Thank you to Joe Dill, Lynn Ballard, Liz Seman, Butch Kirven, and Dan Tripp for voting against the badly amended ordinance which gives cover for continued sprawl development in rural parts of the County.
Save Our Saluda will continue to fight for improvements to policies that protect streams and rivers in the Upper Saluda Watershed as our area continues to grow.
Please stay tuned for opportunities to engage!
Greenville County’s new land development rules pass, angering residents and some on council
A link to the article is HERE or you can scroll down below our letter to read.
Read Save Our Saluda's letter to Council below.
Dear Greenville County Council Members,
The following comments are offered on behalf of Save Our Saluda regarding Agenda Item 9.d. – Land Development Regulations Amendment/Article 3.1 Replacement. We are engaged in the replacement ordinance for Article 3.1 of the County’s Land Development Regulations (LDRs) because:
- It affects a significant portion of the Upper Saluda Watershed and the future water quality of its streams, rivers, and downstream drinking water sources, and
- Watershed plans for the Upper Saluda Watershed (cited below) include recommendations for programmatic measures including improvements in LDRs to prevent further water quality impairments and impacts to downstream drinking water sources due to future development.
Compared to other counties in South Carolina, Greenville County has the 3rd highest number of streams and rivers listed by SCDHEC as being impaired, which means they are not meeting water quality standards and not supporting their designated uses. Most of the County’s impaired waterbodies are in the more highly developed Reedy River Watershed (Figure 1). Greenville County is utilizing significant taxpayer money to address water quality impairments in the Reedy River Watershed that are impacting water quality and a public drinking water supply in a downstream neighboring county. Meanwhile, fifty-eight waterbodies in Greenville County are currently listed by SCDHEC as impaired.
Urban sprawl reduces water quality by increasing the amount of surface runoff, which channels erosive stormwater and pollutants directly into streams and rivers. Land use regulations that offer alternatives to sprawl growth and protect natural resources and open space can help minimize adverse impacts to water quality in developing areas. Conservation subdivisions are a tool that allows for growth in rural areas while protecting the most vulnerable environmental areas (e.g. steep slopes, floodplains, wetlands, etc.) which are invaluable in helping to protect water quality and downstream water resources.
We are familiar with the Current Ordinance and four amendments that are before you and urge you to please vote to pass the Current Ordinance (staff’s version) without the amendments. We also urge you to please reject any other amendments that erode provisions for open space protection and protection of natural resources that are in the Current Ordinance.
The Current Ordinance (staff’s version) is not a perfect conservation subdivision ordinance but a compromise that represents a balance of competing interests. Unlike other model ordinances in our state and region (cited below), it has an extremely small lot size to begin with (6,000 ft2). However, the Current Ordinance can help curb sprawl growth and is therefore the most fiscally responsible option for taxpayers. Furthermore, the staff version most closely aligns with the Comprehensive Plan, allows for continued growth, protects rural communities from unwanted sprawl, and provides for protection of open space and sensitive natural resource areas in rural unzoned portions of the County. It is clear and consistent with other County zoning ordinances, which is the goal of the Unified Development Ordinance.
The Amendments are extremely harmful for the following reasons:
- Amendments 1 and 4 significantly reduce provisions for required open space to an unacceptably low level. The sliding percentage scale suggested for open space requirements is much less than half that of model ordinances (cited below) and would allow for fiscally irresponsible sprawl growth that would harm rural communities and the Upper Saluda Watershed.
- The sliding scale percentages, besides being unacceptably small for meaningful open space protection, add an unnecessary level of complexity to the ordinance that would make it more difficult for developers to understand and for staff to enforce.
- The amendments remove definitions that help clarify the ordinance.
- Amendments 1 and 4 remove the waiver (22.3.6 G.), which removes flexibility for developers. A conservation subdivision ordinance should allow flexibility for designers and developers to be able to achieve the intended purposes and objectives of the ordinance.
- Amendments 1 and 4 totally eliminate the ordinance purpose and all nine ordinance objectives, since meaningful requirements for open space protection are also eliminated, thus making it easier to comply with a bad ordinance for open space protection.
It should also be noted that both “U.S. Wildlife and Fisheries Department” and “U.S. Fish & Wildlife and Fisheries Service” are both incorrect. The correct reference is “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
Thank you for your dedication to government accountability and for your diligence in helping to protect our communities and downstream drinking water sources from the negativeimpacts of sprawl as Greenville County continues to grow.
President, Save Our Saluda
Watershed Manager, Easley Combined Utilities
Conservation Subdivision Handbook - A Guide for North Carolina Communities in the Use of Conservation Design for Land Use Planning. North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service in cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources the USDA Forest Service, Southern Region:
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Model Conservation Subdivision / Open Space Development Ordinance:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Open Space Development Model Ordinance:
Community Choices Quality Growth Toolkit – Conservation Subdivisions, Atlanta Regional Commission:
Save Our Saluda is a nonprofit watershed organization based in Marietta with a mission to protect and restore the Upper Saluda Watershed. We are currently working with our partners to address water quality impairments related to sediment and its associated pollutants through watershed restoration and protection projects. We promote policies that are protective of the water quality, health, and sustainability of water resources in the Upper Saluda Watershed.
In 2016, Save Our Saluda began building a partnership of stakeholders that includes Greenville County and the Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District, to develop watershed protection plans through SCDHEC’s Nonpoint Source Program to address water quality impairments in the Upper Saluda Watershed above Saluda Lake (Figure 1). The partnership has since grown to twenty-two cooperating organizations. Two DHEC-approved watershed plans were completed (see below), the first phase of implementation is nearly complete, and funding has been secured for the second phase of implementation. We appreciate Greenville County’s continued support of our program to addressing the significant issue of excess sediment in our streams and rivers and Saluda Lake, the drinking water source for over 80,000 customers in the Easley Area.
The following watershed plans were accomplished with grant funding provided in part from the Nonpoint Source Program at SCDHEC with funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act and with additional support from the partnership of cooperating stakeholder organizations:
- Watershed Plan for Sediment in the North Saluda River and Saluda Lake (2018) https://scdhec.gov/sites/default/files/media/document/BOW_WatershedPlanNorthSaludaRiver_2018_12%20SMALL.pdf
- Watershed Plan for Sediment in the South Saluda River (2020) https://scdhec.gov/sites/default/files/GIS/Watersheds/Approved_Funded_Watershed_Based_Plans/South_Saluda_River_2020_w_Appendices.pdf
 In 2011-2012, Easley Combined Utilities funded a seven million dollar dredging project to remove 366,000 cubic yards of sediment from the upper part of the lake. Today it is already filled in again and estimates for dredging the same area again are upwards of ten million dollars.
Greenville County’s new land development rules pass, angering residents and some on council
GREENVILLE — Article 3.1 is no more.
The much-maligned section of Greenville County’s land development rules that aimed to stem sprawl in unzoned parts of the county but led to numerous lawsuits over its vague wording is gone after Greenville County Council voted on a replacement Aug. 17.
After months of discussion and passionate entreaties by residents in northern and southern Greenville to replace the rule with one that protects the rural character of their homes and land and forces developers to pay for improvements to county roads, the council voted in a split 7-5 decision to approve amended standards hashed out in private over the last month and never debated publicly.
The changes lessen the impact on developers and open up land for home builders to construct as many as six houses per acre, with less open space than residents wanted and the county’s planning staff recommended.
The new development rules were opposed by both councilmen whose rural districts the changes affect most.
The compromise gives developers and landowners a path forward for development in a rapidly growing county that’s expected to add more than 200,000 residents by 2040.
“I think the big thing is that we got rid of Article 3.1 because there’s a lot of vagueness in it,” Meadows said.
But the way the council adopted the final plan angered residents and a minority of council members. As soon as Chairman Willis Meadows introduced the item on the agenda, Councilman Michael Barnes motioned to amend the proposal. When it was seconded, Councilman Ennis Fant, who joined the meeting virtually, immediately called the question.
Over the protest of the council’s Vice Chair Dan Tripp, a roll call vote passed 7-5 to call the question and eliminate debate on the item. Councilman Lynn Ballard, who ended up voting against the ordinance, cast the deciding vote to limit debate.
The amended version then passed, also by a 7-5 vote. Council members Meadows, Barnes and Fant were joined by Steve Shaw, Stan Tzouvelekas, Xanthene Norris and Chris Harrison, who drafted much of the amended language, in voting for the new rules.
Council members Ballard, Tripp, Joe Dill, Butch Kirven and Liz Seman opposed the amended version.
Last month, the council reverted to the original plan drafted and proposed by the county’s planning staff, which was heralded by conservationists and rural residents as the best solution. That proposal would have required developers to widen all county roads touched by a development to 22 or 24 feet to the nearest intersection. It would also have set aside at least 30 percent, and up to 40 percent, of developments as open space.
A majority on the council concluded the staff’s plan was too strict and would have stifled growth in rural Greenville.
Meadows said if the staff version had passed, it would have cut property values by half in those rural areas because the land would be unusable for development due to the cost for developers to widen roads.
“It would’ve closed building in that area,” he said.
So some on County Council hashed out the plan that passed Aug. 17 ahead of time and proposed the changes with all seven councilmembers listed as co-sponsors.
The proposal struck a balance to allow development while also not forcing developers to “pay for past sins” by widening roads if traffic studies for proposed subdivisions didn’t warrant widening, Meadows said.
It passed quickly, to the shock of a crowd of about 50 interested residents who held signs during the vote that said, “listen to your constituents.”
After the vote, they exploded in anger, yelling at the council from their seats.
“We’re glad to have you here but any outbreaks like that and we’re just going to have to clear the room and let you go home,” Meadows said.
That caused a louder uproar as residents yelled, “you work for us.”
Meadows asked sheriff’s deputies to force anyone who spoke out to leave. Much of the crowd left and gathered outside.
“It’s just unbelievable the refusal of this council to listen to the people of this county,” said Jason Wright, a northern Greenville farmer. “People from the north to the south have all spoken on this issue and they all want the same thing and what they did tonight was took any responsibility to the impacts of development away from the developer.”
Wright said the residents of the county would end up paying for new growth.
“All they’ve heard is don’t do the sprawl, don’t do the willy-nilly development, and tonight they just turned on us,” said Kyle Gilley, a southern Greenville resident.
The staff plan wasn’t perfect but was created by professionals to balance the interests of all citizens, “unlike the amendments adopted tonight, which markedly favor developers over residents,” said Andrea Cooper, executive director of Upstate Forever, an environmental and conservation group.
“The councilors who voted to amend the staff plan blatantly ignored the wishes of the community,” Cooper said. “People drove out here tonight with tornado warnings in effect. They made calls, showed up to meetings, and sent hundreds of emails asking council to support the staff’s plan without those harmful amendments. Every single person who spoke at the public hearing last month asked council to back the staff plan.”
The version that passed was never vetted by the county’s planning commission, which is the body tasked with applying the new regulation, she said.
“It’s easy to see why constituents feel they are being sidelined in favor of development interests,” she said.
After the vote, Dill suggested he would push for a development moratorium until county leaders could better understand the impact of the new rules. He later said he didn’t know whether such a moratorium stood a chance of passing.
Dill and Ballard, who each represent largely unzoned rural districts, voted against the plan.
Dill accused the council majority of holding Saturday meetings to come to an agreement. Tripp also referred to “secret meetings earlier this week.” Meadows told The Post and Courier that he hadn’t been a part of or heard of any meetings among council members about the issue.
A number of council members who lost the vote spoke later in the meeting. Seman said she was disappointed there was no debate on the issue.
“Our citizens deserve to hear us debate the issues,” she said.
Kirven said the ordinance made some progress but needed further improvements. He also said he was disappointed there was no discussion before the vote.
Kirven said developers would seek out narrow rural county roads for development because they won’t shoulder the costs of improvements the state Department of Transportation would require for state roads. A traffic study and road impacts would not be triggered unless subdivisions exceed 45 houses, he said.
The costs for road improvements would “fall squarely on the taxpayers,” Kirven said.
“So where we are right now, until we make some improvements, I think for developers this is a big win for profit and sprawl, but for the people of Greenville County, it’s a travesty,” he said.
Tripp spoke forcefully, at times yelling at Meadows, who sat next to him.
“The majority does not have a divine right to shut the minority down,” Tripp said. “And Mr. Fant, I’m ashamed of you that as a minority, you would shut the minority down. You’re a hypocrite.”
Fant is one of two Black council members.
Tripp said he was incensed by Meadow’s “leadership, or lack thereof” and that there had been no debate. He said afterward that he planned to vote in favor of the amended version until the majority nixed discussion.
“It is wrong and there will be no peace on this council while you keep thumbing the minority on this body,” Tripp said.
Meadows said after the meeting that he would have a private conversation with Tripp.
Follow Nathaniel Cary on Twitter at @nathanielcary
Nathaniel Cary is a reporter with The Post and Courier Greenville.