County’s DRT misapplied Green Code standards at LongCreek

The Green Code is a great vehicle, if used properly, to provide compatibility within a community and to preserve the environmental characteristics of an area and its various special environmental features.

The sketch plan submitted by Long Creek Associates and Sustainable Designs does not indicate a proper use of that code. It seeks 332 housing units on property that suggests conservation areas of almost 30 acres in a total development of almost 100 acres.

The submitted sketch plan proposes three new villages or communities within the whole of Longcreek Plantation. The applicant is combining these into what it suggests we consider as one Green Code development.

But let’s look at The Green Code.

The Green Code is a carefully crafted provision that rewards an applicant with relief from many of the requirements for the district in which the development is to be situated, but not all code requirements are waived.

Although the property in one of the villages is a beautiful area, it has no primary conservation area and by itself is an improper object for development under the Green Code. It is improper to permit such a piggy back application for such a sensitive and important development practice.

Richland County Land Development Code is carefully crafted with among other purposes to ensure compatibility among neighbors.

The applicant’s calculation of authorized units or lots under the Land Development Code is incorrect. The implication is that there are 100.7 acres available for development, which the developer states would authorize 332 units or lots. The inference is that the 332 lots are authorized under Green Code provisions.

While the Green Code sets aside many of the development standards otherwise found in the district and several other provisions of the Land Development Code, it’s density provisions are not set aside.

In fact, Section 26-2 of the Land Development Code, its purpose section, states the code has a specific purpose to regulate density within Richland County. It does not abrogate this purpose in Green Code developments; to the contrary, it uses the density provisions of the various districts in conjunction with density bonuses to reward Green Code use.

The Green Code development requirements do not cover density. The Green Code specifies that residential gross density for each zoning district is established in other sections of the code. In other words, for this project, the density provisions of section 26-89, Residential, Single Family-Low Density District, apply. That provision specifies no more than one principal dwelling unit is authorized per lot and further specifies that lot to be “in no case” less than 12,000 square feet. It even gives the Green Code bonus provision validity by authorizing its reward with a bonus density.

To consider that bonus density inapplicable (because of other Green Code development standards) fails to consider the specific application of the bonus provision in the Green Code. It also does not consider that the specific Green Code development standards do not address density, a major provision of the Land Development Code.

The Green Code only gives the right to use the development standards “found in this section,” in lieu of the development standards found in the district provisions. It does not state other standards are not applicable, in fact, as mentioned above, the Land Development Code states just the contrary.

Density is not determined under the Land Development Code by the size of an entire development. Density specifically is defined in the Code’s definition section as “The number of dwelling units per gross acre of land.” It is determined in connection with the size of the authorized lot for the specific district involved.

The Green Code recognizes this with the changes in density for the change in the district involved.

Density is never regulated by more than one dwelling unit on a lot. The regulation is the size of the lot. That size determines the density for the district involved. Different districts have different size lots but the application for density throughout is one dwelling unit per lot.

Accordingly, density is determined and applied for the lot being built. It does not rise and fall or permit some lots to be smaller if other lots are larger thus making up the variance within the development.

In the case in LongCreek, the infrastructure and the conservation areas cannot be considered in determining the number of houses authorized. It is the buildable area that determines the number of principal dwelling units.

Utilization of the density provisions for the buildable areas ensures that Green Code communities do not play havoc with the character of the district in which they would be situated.

Construction or interpretation provisions of the Land Development Code specifically require that when there is conflict between limitations, standards or requirements contained in different provisions of the Code, the more restrictive shall apply.

The ‘no minimum lot area’ provision in subsection (h)(2) may be in conflict with the density provisions of the various district provisions and subsection (i) of the Green Code. Obviously, the more restrictive density district provisions apply. The proposed sketch plan does not follow this since some extremely small lots contain two units.

The site plan also fails to identify conservation areas, open space or common areas contiguous to the project. It does not appear to identify tree lines, native woodlands, peaks or rock outcroppings. It does not show where pervious and impervious surfaces are used, at least it is not clear. If storm water management practices are utilized, they are not clearly indicated. The application of the Green Code under the Richland County Land Development Code would expect a more complete application.

Application of Green Code development standards should be strictly enforced for Green Code projects.

Green Code use is for areas of specific conservation practices, not for development that might be close by. Longcreek Plantation has many neighborhoods and the developer suggests three more, calling those villages. They are no more or less neighborhoods or clusters of houses than other neighborhoods throughout the Residential Single Family-Low Density District within which LongCreek Plantation resides. They are not all Green Code developments just because one neighborhood is developed under the Green Code conservation practices. The Green Code application may be appropriate for one or two of the proposed villages but the plans must be revised to conform with the proper standards, especially the required density.