Our 2021 advocacy priorities

January 20th, 2021

Upstate Forever’s mission is to protect the critical lands, waters, and unique character of Upstate South Carolina. To accomplish that mission, we advocate for specific outcomes at the local and state level (and, much more rarely, at the national level).

We decide to engage in advocacy issues based on alignment with our mission and strategic goals. In each case, we assess whether the initiative is likely to have a measurable local impact to the ten-county Upstate region’s land and water resources.

Below are the issues we’re advocating for in 2021 and the reasons we’ve chosen to prioritize them:

Policy tools that reduce sprawl and protect the Upstate’s remaining forests and farmlands

A Unified Development Ordinance in Greenville County that enacts the community’s vision for the future countywide

Greenville County has adopted many plans over the years, but those plans have rarely been implemented through policy action, especially as related to land use. County Council unanimously adopted a widely supported comprehensive plan in early 2020, which outlines a clear strategy for growing in a more fiscally and environmentally responsible way in the years ahead. The plan recommends that most future growth should take place in the middle part of the county, where infrastructure can support it. To realize this vision, the county is drafting a Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) to replace existing zoning and land development regulations. It is critical that the new UDO aligns with the community’s vision for the future and enacts the plan’s future land use map. The new UDO should allow for higher density development where called for in the plan and provide meaningful land use controls in unzoned areas where most of the county’s remaining forests and farmlands exist, and which are especially at risk from uncontrolled sprawl.

Area Performance Planning across Spartanburg County

Area Performance Planning (APP) represents a thoughtful and deliberate process to develop policy tools to shape growth more wisely in Spartanburg County. Its application through adoption of performance-based zoning in the county’s southwest sector is enabling walkable, mixed-use development in that area. APP also presents an opportunity to protect the county’s remaining forests and productive farmlands — critical to air and water quality, wildlife, and a thriving local food economy. We support Spartanburg County’s continued efforts to more proactively manage growth through the APP process, and urge Spartanburg leaders to continue its application across the county.

Innovative strategies to protect critical lands and water quality

Funding for the Greenville County Historic and Natural Resources Trust

More than 200,000 new residents are projected to make Greenville County their home by 2040. Such growth need not come at the expense of natural areas, farms, forests, and historic sites. Greenville’s outstanding quality of life is largely dependent on its blend of vibrant communities and beautiful outdoor places. People are attracted to areas where there is an emphasis on green space protection, historic preservation, and easy access to trails and nature. Not only that, significant economic benefits result from conservation. Local governments can – and should – play a key role in protecting such critical community assets, including allocating funds for such protection. Dedicating local funds to parks, historic preservation, and open space attracts additional state and federal dollars to benefit our community. In late 2020 Greenville County Council established the Historic and Natural Resources Trust. In 2021, we would like to see them fund it.

A 100-foot riparian buffer requirement within the Reedy River watershed

The Reedy River Water Quality Group has been studying the utility and benefits of riparian buffers for the past five years and has strongly recommended a 100-ft buffer requirement on most streams in Greenville County — consistent with the recommendations of numerous advisory groups and agencies since 2001. As an MS4, the County will need to implement ongoing and lasting practices to improve water quality. Riparian buffers are proven as one of the most cost-effective methods for achieving meaningful water quality protection with minimal upfront costs. Buffers provide myriad benefits including drinking water protection; streambank stabilization and erosion reduction; decreased frequency and intensity of flooding; pollutant filtration; and habitat preservation.

Sustainable funding for source water protection

Research has demonstrated that the most cost-effective way to protect water quality is through land protection. Time is of the essence to secure the permanent protection of priority lands in the Upstate, especially in areas that serve as source waters for drinking water supplies. A study from the Trust for Public Land has shown that every $1 spent on land protection saves $27 on water treatment costs. Lands left in their natural state help to filter pollutants, lessen the impacts of flooding, and safeguard our drinking water supplies now and into the future.

Policies that expand housing and mobility options and protect urban greenspace & tree canopy

A land management ordinance in the City of Greenville that supports community goals related to affordable housing, mobility, and open space 

GVL2040, the City of Greenville’s draft comprehensive plan, recommends directing the majority of future growth over the next two decades to nodes and corridors identified throughout the city. A traditional, higher density urban development form in these areas will expand mobility and housing choices, support a more robust public transit system, and generate revenue to achieve the community’s ambitious goals related to affordable housing, mobility, and open space. The plan also recommends thoughtful residential infill to diversify housing stock and create more inclusive neighborhoods. To realize this vision, the city’s Land Management Ordinance (LMO) must be updated to ensure a new way of growing in the years ahead. 

A network of natural areas and open space in the City of Greenville 

As the City of Greenville grows, it will be important to ensure that its network of natural areas and open space grows along with it. Tree canopy must be protected and expanded through a strengthened tree ordinance, which is currently in the works. Universal design and authentic community engagement should drive development and redevelopment of parks and green spaces to achieve full accessibility, ensure that individual parks reflect community needs & desires, and avoid environmental gentrification and displacement. Green infrastructure — a network of natural areas and open spaces — should be used when possible to naturally manage stormwater and improve water quality.

Expanded housing choices in Travelers Rest 

Allowing and encouraging a range of home types — accessory dwelling units, duplexes, triplexes, quads, etc. — within new and established single-family neighborhoods in walkable locations will enable compact development, expand housing choices and affordability, and build pockets of “gentle density” that support expanded mobility options, including more robust transit. The City of Travelers Rest has begun the process of identifying regulatory barriers to diversifying housing stock. Once barriers are identified, ordinances must be updated to remove them.

City of Spartanburg comprehensive plan

Plan Spartanburg — the city’s comprehensive planning process — as well as the draft plan that emerges in 2021, should set a course for accomplishing overarching priorities identified throughout the planning process that build upon the plan’s foundational principle of equity. The plan should identify strategies for achieving preferred outcomes; provide a framework for decision-making that aligns values and priorities with the community’s vision for the future; and outline a clear plan of action for timely implementation, including updates to land use policies as needed. Plan Spartanburg recommendations must embrace policies that support expanded housing choices and improved transportation options to move the city toward a more equitable future.  

SC State Legislative issues that impact our land and water

Increased funding for the SC Conservation Bank 

One of Upstate Forever’s top priorities is land protection, but many land owners cannot afford the upfront expenses required to protect their land — fees for appraisals, attorneys, and monitoring, for example. One of the tools we use is funding assistance from the South Carolina Conservation Bank (SCCB). With the current rate of development combined with the clear need for more land for public recreation, made even more imperative by the COVID-19 crisis, it is critical that the budget for SCCB grants be increased.

Increased funding for the SC State Water Plan

Another top priority is the protection of water quality and quantity in the Upstate, which is home to three river basins: Broad, Saluda, and Savannah. Mandated by the State Legislature to ensure we have plentiful water into the future, the new State Water Plan will guide the policy, management, and conservation of the state’s water resources for the next 50 years. Of the eight River Basin Councils (RBC) that will be formed to create regional water management plans, only one has been formed — the Edisto RBC. Additional councils will follow as the legislature appropriates funds. The 2020 funding request to establish the second RBC in the Pee Dee river basin was unsuccessful given budget uncertainties with COVID-19. At the current funding rate (i.e., $1.5 million per year), South Carolina will not have an updated State Water Plan for another ten years; therefore, we will continue to advocate for increased funding.

Improve drinking water protections

Access to clean, reliable drinking water is a fundamental right for all people across the Upstate, though some communities bear the brunt of inadequate water protections. Upstate Forever will work with statewide partners to build support for legislation that will strengthen drinking water protections by directing DHEC to establish legal limits for toxic chemicals in public drinking water systems. Concurrent with legislative efforts, we will identify communities who have fought for access to clean water and work with them to address ongoing concerns.

Advocate for clean energy infrastructure and energy efficiency

Energy infrastructure has had negative impacts on the Upstate’s resources and communities (fuel spills, coal tar and coal ash contamination, damaging pipeline construction, the threat of massive transmission lines). Upstate Forever created an Energy Program to address these impacts but also to become proactive by promoting energy efficiency, renewables, and energy justice. Priorities for the coming year will be increasing the impact of utility energy efficiency programs, advocating for the clean-up and remediation of contaminated sites, and fighting fossil fuel infrastructure.


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