All unincorporated parcels in Richland being rezoned

Editorial: What Does this Mean for Property Owners?

COLUMBIA – The Richland County planning and development staff has a plan to rezone every property in the unincorporated areas of Blythewood and the entirety of Richland County – all 375,000 acres – by June 7.

While the staff has been working on the rezoning plan for five years and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consulting fees, the ramifications of this very complex mass rezoning is not yet fully understood by most citizens affected by it, nor by some on county council who will be voting on it. Yet, the new zoning designations have already been incorporated into the 2021 Land Development Code (LDC) that was approved in November.

The new code replaces zoning designations in the 2005 code and deletes the RU zoning designation which makes up about 78 percent of the county.

Many property owners in the county think it is time to slow the train down and take into account how seriously the new zoning could affect thousands of properties.

The LDC is the law in the county that regulates land use, growth, and development. It governs everything from the types of uses, location and size of development within various zones, as well as establishes the procedures for review of development proposals, including approvals or denials. It also controls development and subdivision standards such as parking, landscaping, signs, open space within a development, road layout he number of homes per acre and more.

The LDC is made up of two parts, both of which must be approved before the new rezoning can be implemented. Part one created the new zoning designations (codes) that were approved in November, and part two is the new zoning map which assigns the new codes to the individual properties.

While the codes have been approved, the map has not – but it’s in the chute.

A planning commission workshop on the map is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, April 1 at 10 a.m., in county council chambers. The map will go before the planning commission Monday 3 p.m., for a recommendation to county council. That recommendation could be for council to approve, to deny or to postpone.

The codes can’t go into effect until the map is approved.

The public can attend the Monday meeting and have one more chance to express their opinions about the LDC before the vote to recommend. The map will then go before county council for three readings and a public hearing.

The mass rezoning of the county is something the county planning staff says will make it more user friendly, implement policies of PLAN RICHLAND COUNTY and align districts, uses and development standards with current best practices.

But the newly approved 2021 LDC will also make it easier for developers to bring residential subdivisions to the rural areas of the county without going before county council for rezoning as is required now. Without the requirement for developers to go before county council for rezoning, the public loses the right to have a say about what goes into or next to their neighborhood.

As an example of the new zoning changes, many properties in Blythewood that are currently zoned RU (rural) are proposed to be zoned R2, R1 or another zoning designation that is more suited for denser development than large acre homes and farms with animals, crops, gardens and other things that make up an RU lifestyle.

A deeper review of permitted uses in R1 and R2 zoning designations reveals that they are not the same as the RU zoning designations. In R1 and R2, the focus is on homes – single-family detatched homes in R1 and three-family and four-family  homes in R2. The only other outright permitted uses in R1 and R2 are antennas, and public safety facilities. 

While the county planning staff insists that the R1 and R2 zoning designations are almost identical to the former RU zoning, they are not.

The differences are many, according to the county’s own zoning specifications. For example, R1 and R2 do not allow riding stables and horse boarding that are currently permitted and are standard uses under RU zoning. Only by meeting special requirements are manufactured homes and community gardens permitted in R1. R1 and R2 zoning uses are more closely aligned with residential subdivisions, not farms, farm animals and crops.

Once aware of the new zoning changes, many residents are pushing back against them. County staff has been quick to say they can make concessions to the proposed zoning map, so quickly in fact, that it almost seems part of the plan – initially jumping from RU to an unreasonable R2, then when there are complaints, concessions are made to R1, which is still not RU.

Another consequence of the new LDC, is that rezoning by county council will no longer be necessary in many instances because the new zoning designations generally accommodate a jump in density within the zoning designation. Developers, therefore will not in many cases be required to go before county council for rezoning, because a higher density is already built into the new zoning classifications,

Citizens who live near a requested subdivision, will not have a voice in the process if rezoning by council is not required.

At a Sept. 23 county council workshop where a presentation was being made about the implementation of the county’s new LDC, Richland County Council Chair Paul Livingston affirmed the reduced need for rezoning under the new LDC when he remarked to presenter Brian Crooks that, “So this will reduce the number of [zoning] applications necessary in the future.”

“That is a function of the map,” Crooks said. “The zoning map is going to do that.”

While the county planning staff doesn’t say as much in plain English, the end game of the mass rezoning will greatly reduce the need for developers to go before county council in order to develop residential subdivisions and multifamily complexes in previously RU-zoned areas. They will be able to build without the neighbors’ input.

And if it’s not already clear that this plan is being rushed through, consider that the Planning Commission will be making their recommendation to council on Monday for the rezoning of every parcel in the county. And they will be looking at a zoning map that was just this week redesigned. And almost everyone who comes to speak to the issue that day may well not have even seen the new map at all.

While the county planning staff is eager to push the zoning map approval through, some county council members have wisely called for the process to be slowed down on several occasions this past year.

Let’s hope the Planning Commissioners will take council’s and the property owners’ lead, and at least postpone the vote on the new zoning map for another month allowing for more public awareness and input.

After all, if the new zoning map is approved as it is, without further consideration, those now living on RU-zoned property could be greatly impacted in a negative way. Doing away with RU zoning doesn’t bode well for rural living.

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