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November 4th, 2021
By Sherry Barrett
This was originally published as an opinion-editorial by the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. To read it on the SHJ website, click here.
More than a year in the making, Plan Spartanburg — the City of Spartanburg’s draft comprehensive plan — made its public debut this fall. You can review the draft plan at PlanSpartanburg.com. The draft plan’s tag line — “Many Voices, One Vision” — is a nod to the importance of gathering input from diverse community voices to create a shared and equitable vision for how the City will grow through 2040.
Unique in the country, the City of Spartanburg’s plan may be the first adopted with an equity focus at its core. That focus forces us to consider complex community issues and inequities that we might otherwise gloss over, or worse, completely ignore. It forces us to ask why such inequities exist and what we can do to address them.
For example, the plan highlights how decades of discriminatory land policies and lending practices have directly led to who can afford to own a home in the City of Spartanburg — and who cannot — and how existing regulations continue in some cases to exacerbate the home ownership gap. The draft comprehensive plan emphasizes that “providing a broad variety of housing sizes, types, and price points helps ensure people are matched with the housing that best suits them, and prevents households from being cost burdened due to lack of choice.”
A key way that local governments can diversify their housing stock and create more affordable housing options is by re-legalizing “missing middle” home types such as duplexes, triplexes, and accessory dwelling units in more residential areas across the city. Opticos Design, the firm credited with coining the phrase “missing middle,” describes such housing as a range of house-scale buildings with multiple units — compatible in scale and form with single-detached homes — located in walkable neighborhoods. These home types are often more affordable as well, due to their smaller footprint.
Such housing types were common prior to WWII, yet virtually disappeared in the years that followed. How did this happen? Starting in the 1920s, local governments across the country began using land-use and zoning regulations to limit opportunities for missing middle housing types, instead encouraging single detached homes only. Single detached-only zoning districts emerged as the predominant residential zoning district — eliminating the opportunity to build perfectly compatible housing choices in neighborhood after neighborhood and resulting in inefficient sprawl. Upstate Forever helped introduce the concept of missing middle housing in Spartanburg at the 2019 Spartanburg Housing Summit, hosted by the United Way of the Piedmont.
As the City’s process to finalize Plan Spartanburg advances in 2022, use your voice to actively support the equity focus of the draft plan, and especially its recommendations to expand housing choices and opportunities for walkable, urban neighborhood living at a range of price points — a key strategy for building more equitable and inclusive communities.
Would you like to stay up-to-date on the City of Spartanburg comprehensive plan process and receive the latest news on land use planning in Spartanburg in your inbox? Visit upstateforever.org/email to join our Planning & Growth Updates for Spartanburg County email list.