Top options to fight urban sprawl in Greenville County
Four competing options have emerged for overhauling the land-development rule that has sparked court battles over protecting the farms and forests of northern and southern Greenville County from urban sprawl.
While the details differ, environmental groups, citizen activists and Greenville County Councilman Chris Harrison want to impose specific limits on residential development in unzoned areas that cover more than half of the county.
They say that establishing minimum lot sizes of between a half-acre and two acres in rural settings would correct a key shortcoming in the land-development rule known as Article 3.1.
As currently written, Article 3.1 says new subdivisions must be “compatible” with surrounding land-use density and environmental conditions. Critics say those provisions are overly vague.
The Homebuilders Association of Greenville favors a different approach — revamping Article 3.1 so that it won’t stand as a “roadblock to development.”
ARTICLE 3 GENERAL SUBDIVISION REQUIREMENTS
3.1 Review Criteria: Submitted subdivisions may be approved if they meet all of the following criteria:
• Adequate existing infrastructure and transportation systems exist to support the project;
• The project is compatible with the surrounding land use density;
• The project is compatible with the site’s environmental conditions, such as but not limited to, wetlands, flooding, endangered species and/or habitat, and historic sites and/or cemeteries.
Greenville County Council Chairman Willis Meadows introduced a proposal to repeal Article 3.1 on March 16, hours after the council instructed its attorney to settle a lawsuit related to the rule. Six other cases involving Article 3.1 are moving through the courts.
Council members voted to put the brakes on Meadows’ proposal last month while they search for an acceptable way to revise the measure.
“We’re putting the heat on ourselves to come up with a solution,” Councilman Steve Shaw said.
Here is a closer look at the four top options for fixing Article 3.1:
Citizen activists favor a formula that equals two-acre lots
Citizen activist Jim Moore, who lives in southern Greenville County, wants the county to use a mathematical formula that would allow subdivisions in rural areas to have 10 times the density of the surrounding properties.
“That sounds like a lot,” Moore said, but he pointed out that many rural properties range in size from 10 acres up to 100 acres.
“So if you go 10 times the density, you’re still looking at lots that are one house per two acres,” Moore said during a Zoom video conference in which he was joined by citizen activists Tom Stitt and Julie Turner. Still lives in southern Greenville County and Turner owns a small horse farm in northern Greenville County.
A previous proposal to require a minimum two-acre lot size in rural areas went nowhere last year. Detractors said such a move could cause landowners to lose thousands of dollars in property values.
Moore also wants the county to strengthen a section of Article 3.1 dealing with roads. He said traffic studies should be conducted for more proposed subdivisions and that county roads near new developments ought to be improved to meet state standards.
Conservation subdivisions touted by environmental groups
The South Carolina Environmental Law Project and Upstate Forever are promoting what’s known as conservation subdivisions as a tool to manage urban sprawl.
This strategy encourages developers to set aside half of their property in rural subdivisions for habitat preservation, passive recreation, buffering or agriculture. In return, they would get to build homes in more density on the remaining land.
For example, a developer who preserved half of a 100-acre site would be permitted to build 75 homes on the other 50 acres.
Michael Martinez, an attorney with the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, said conservation…