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January 22nd, 2020
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 2020 and the reasons we’ve chosen to prioritize them:
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. Once the draft comp plan is adopted, a Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) should be prepared as called for in the plan. The UDO should revamp current zoning and land development regulations and reflect the plan’s future land use map. Meaningful protections, such as agricultural/rural zoning, must be adopted in rural areas – especially in unzoned areas, which make up two thirds of the County and are especially at risk.
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 better protect rural areas from incompatible developments that threaten rural character. We support Spartanburg County’s continued efforts to more proactively manage growth through the APP process, and urge county leaders to continue its application across the county.
There are some places so unique, beautiful, and necessary for maintaining an area’s authentic character that their “highest and best use” is truly in their natural state. Local governments can – and should – play a key role in protecting such critical natural assets, including the allocation of local funds for such protection. We support creation and adoption of a county conservation bank and funding to protect the county’s most critical lands.
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.
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 Lands 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.
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 more compact development, expand housing choices, build pockets of “gentle density” that fit within the character of existing communities, and support expanded mobility options.
TOD – at a scale appropriate for the City of Greenville – is critical for a more robust future transit system to function efficiently. Such mixed-use, compact development generates property tax revenue and uses land much more efficiently than lower-density patterns of development. Within such development “nodes”, regulations should encourage mixed-use, mixed-income development and prioritize walking, biking, and transit over personal vehicular travel. Similarly, street connectivity requirements in all urban areas should be strengthened to improve ease of travel, support future growth, and expand mobility options.
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 SC Conservation Bank. With the current rate of development combined with a $1B surplus in state revenues, it is imperative that the budget for SCCB grants be increased.
Another top priority is the protection of water quality and quantity in the Upstate. The State Water Plan is an initiative mandated by the State Legislature to ensure we have plentiful water into the future. The Plan establishes a council for each of the eight river basins. The council will be charged with quantifying flows, current demand, future demand, and management tools. Again referencing the $1B surplus, the current budget ask ($1.5M) by DNR is too low to accomplish more than one additional basin plan in the coming year, and with 7 remaining plans requiring funding, this must be a priority if the plan is ever to be completed in a timely manner. The Upstate is home to three of the eight total basins (Broad, Saluda, and Savannah).
Energy infrastructure has had negative impacts on the Upstate’s resources (fuel spills, 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 and renewables. A major early victory in 2019 was the Energy Freedom Act. And while the Energy Freedom Act was monumental, the work is not finished. Recent Public Service Commission decisions indicate that additional regulatory overhaul and consumer protections are needed, and several bills were carried over from last year that will address this, including the Ratepayer Protection Act.