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February 4th, 2019
By Lisa Hallo
Recently at a holiday gathering, an acquaintance asked me what I do for work. As I launched into the details of my role as Land Policy Director at Upstate Forever, I heard words like “land use,” “zoning,” and “comprehensive planning” rolling off my tongue enthusiastically.
As she sipped her wine, I could not help but notice an obvious glazing of her eyes as I droned on. (Hmm, maybe land use planning isn’t as exciting as I thought….really??!!). In retrospect I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised…..I did sound a bit wonky.
What I wish I had done is ask her a few simple questions. Have you ever sat in traffic on Woodruff Road and wondered, “How on earth did this gridlock get so bad?” Ever wonder why so many neighborhoods are built with just a single point of entry, funneling all residents onto the same congested rural road? Ever wonder why an elementary school would be built within a stone’s throw of hundreds of homes with no safe pedestrian connections for kids within those homes to reach it? (Looking at you, Bell’s Crossing!)
On the flip side, have you ever considered that the downtown we all know and love didn’t just happen – that in reality “Yeah THAT Greenville” has resulted from a clear vision, actionable strategies, and deliberate policy action?
Land development regulations and local zoning laws are powerful tools that impact nearly every aspect of our daily lives – how and where our neighborhoods are built, whether our kids can safely walk to school, whether we must drive to every destination, and the diversity of home types within each community.
These tools shape the built environment, in turn impacting the natural one. They determine the degree to which a community maintains its sense of place and authenticity as it grows – or instead devolves into “anywhere USA”. At the foundation of these policy tools are land use plans – “blueprints” for how and where growth occurs.
In 1994 the State of South Carolina passed legislation enabling local jurisdictions to form planning commissions and regulate land use. Local jurisdictions opting to do so are required to undergo a “comprehensive” planning process, review their plan every five years, and update it every ten. The enabling legislation outlines parameters local governments must follow related to the planning process and specifies nine “elements” considered “critical, necessary, and desirable to guide the development and redevelopment of its area of jurisdiction.” Those nine elements include: population, economic development, natural resources, cultural resources, community facilitates, housing, land use, transportation, and priority investment.
These “comprehensive” plans should represent a shared vision for the community’s future. Of course, that vision can only be “shared” if citizens actively participate in the planning process. That means attending local meetings, contacting local council members, and sharing your aspirations for the community’s future. It means showing up.
Greenville County is kicking off their 10-year comprehensive planning process in early 2019. They have posted a series of community meetings throughout February on their long range planning blog. There are many opportunities to engage, and you need not be an expert. Wonky or not, these are conversations you need to be part of. So the question is: will you show up?
Lisa Hallo is the Land Policy Director at Upstate Forever and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.