Richland County Denies Access to Minutes

After the Richland County Planning Commission’s Oct. 1 unanimous vote to deny an appeal by LongCreek Plantation residents over the County’s controversial application of its Green Code to a proposed development in the appellants’ neighborhood, attorneys for the County have refused to allow The Voice to listen to or copy the electronic minutes of that meeting.

Sam Brick, a LongCreek resident and retired attorney who unsuccessfully argued the appeal to the Planning Commission last week, is expected to take his argument to Circuit Court.

While Geonard Price, Deputy Director/Zoning Administrator, initially approved The Voice’s request to listen to the recording, as has been permitted in the past, the County’s attorneys intervened, denying The Voice access to the recording.

County Attorney Amelia Linder said the attorneys concluded, after three consultations during a 45-minute period, that the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) defined meeting minutes only as written records, not as digital recordings.

Linder said the minutes of the meeting were not being released because they had not been transcribed into written form. She said transcription could take about two-and-a-half to three weeks.

“Meeting minutes are not minutes until they have been transcribed and written down,” Linder said.

Bill Rogers, Executive Director of the SC Press Association, took issue with Linder’s assessment of the statue.

“Minutes are minutes as soon as they are recorded in whatever form and should be released to the public as stipulated by the statute,” Rogers told The Voice.

According to the ‘plain language’ version of Sec. 30-4-(d) (l) of the SC FOIA booklet, “the public and press are entitled to copies of minutes and they should be available soon after the meeting. Minutes of meetings for the preceding six months are to be made available for inspection without a written request being made.”

At press time, the minutes had not been released to The Voice in any form.

At issue in the meeting in question, according to Brick, is that the County is misapplying its Green Code to a proposed development inside the boundaries of the LongCreek Plantation neighborhood. He said the County is, in essence, rezoning that property with its misapplication of the Green Code.

The Green Code was enacted by the County in June of 2008 with the intent of enticing developers to preserve the environment by offering ‘set asides.’ By preserving more undeveloped land in a housing development, the developer might be allowed more density or other development perks.

Critics of the Code say such arrangements are not required to come before the Planning Commission or be subjected to objections from nearby property owners as would be required when requesting re-zoning.

According to Councilwoman Val Hutchinson who represents most of the LongCreek Plantation neighborhood, the only development in the County that the Green Code has heretofore been applied to is a neighborhood called The View.

When the County’s Development Review Team (DRT) recently approved a sketch plan submitted by LongCreek Associates for the proposed LongCreek development, it adopted the subdivision ‘village’ as a residential green code community.

Brick and other residents of LongCreek say the ‘village’ sketch plan fails to meet green code standards as set forth in Section 26-186(a) of the statue. He and Monika Iskersky, who joined him in the appeal, listed seven specific ways the development did not meet Green Code standards, including incorrect application of zero lot line, unenforced minimum lot widths, unspecified parking requirements and unenforced density standards.

According to a source who asked not to be identified, the intent of those who created the green code was that it be used for new development, not in established neighborhoods like LongCreek Plantation where zoning is in place.

“However,” the source told The Voice, “the Green Code regulations do not come right out and state that, so it’s not enforceable.”

Hutchinson agreed. “I don’t think anyone realized the potency of this Code,” Hutchinson said. “It actually trumps zoning and lacks guarantees of quality.”

Although the Planning Commission voted unanimously against Brick’s appeal, there was disagreement among Commission members as to the worthiness of the Code.

Commissioner Heather Cairns said, “Maybe we need to look at the land development code and see how it fits in.”

The Planning Commission has gone so far as to recommended that County Council dismantle its Green Code and start over.

Hutchinson thinks Council will follow the Commission’s advice.

“But,” she lamented, “that’s only going to help in the future. It won’t offer much help to the LongCreek residents in their current situation.”

After the Planning Commission approves the minutes of the Oct. 1 meeting, which is expected to happen at its Nov. 5 meeting, Brick will have 30 days in which to file an appeal.

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