Zoning is Everything

For residents of the Rockton Thruway, Middlesix and surrounding Winnsboro communities, who for weeks now have been fighting to keep Winnsboro Crushed Stone from crushing any stone in the hills beyond their back yards, the prospect of a new granite quarry in their neck of the woods is looking more and more like a foregone conclusion. Barring the discovery of ancient Mayan ruins on the property, or a duck-billed platypus nest, there is little that can be done to keep the company from breaking more stone than a Georgia chain gang in the not too distant future.

The County years ago zoned the vast majority of the property in question RD-1 (Rural Residential) and a smaller portion of the property B-2 (General Business), both of which allow for conditional mining. Those conditions are governed by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), in whose hands the matter now rests entirely. The County could attempt the rash and ill-advised measure of swooping in and rezoning the property right out from under Winnsboro Crushed Stone, but the ensuing legal battle that would no doubt follow would essentially set fire to untold mountains of taxpayer dollars, and not even Vegas would take odds on the County’s chances of victory.

All anyone can do now is to do everything possible to ensure Winnsboro Crushed Stone is a good neighbor when they get here, and do everything necessary to hold them accountable if they are not. If the company runs their Winnsboro operation in the same manor and with the same care as they appear to run their operation in Chesterfield County, then things shouldn’t be nearly as bad as many fear. That is not to say that residents will ultimately be happy with a granite quarry a mile to their rear, or that their property values may or may not suffer; but it is to suggest that they may be somewhat less unhappy at the end of the day. There are no guarantees, of course, that an industry that is a good neighbor in one county will be a good neighbor in another, any more than there are any guarantees the neighbor you have now isn’t operating a meth lab in his basement. There are no guarantees in life.

Past performance may not be a definite indicator of future returns; it is, however, one of the best means we have on which to base judgments. It is not perfect, but it is the best we can do.

But beyond the arguments for or against the granite quarry, arguments in which this newspaper is, for the time being at least, completely neutral, a larger lesson looms: Zoning matters. Few residents pay attention to how their property is zoned until it is too late, and in the case of Winnsboro Crushed Stone it certainly appears to be. Zoning may seem an indecipherable alphabet soup of bureaucratic blather – R-1, R-2, RD-1, B-1, etc., etc. – but if you are considering purchasing property, particularly in the unincorporated areas of the county, any county, it pays to know just what those letters mean. It also pays to stay abreast of your local governments, attend meetings when possible, and at the very least review agendas of upcoming meetings. If property around you is going to be rezoned, this is where it is going to happen and this is the only chance you are going to get to have any input about it.

It should not be overlooked, meanwhile, that the owners of the property on which this quarry will sit are undoubtedly perfectly at peace with how the property is zoned, and in America land owners have the right to use and develop their land in accordance with local, state and federal laws. Regardless of which side of the quarry argument one stands, that right should always be respected.