Final vote on Richland County zoning map set for Oct. 3

Next: Vote on planning commission’s amendments to county’s mass rezoning law

COLUMBIA – It was in 2016 when Richland County planning and development began working to replace the county’s 2005 Land Development Code (LDC) with a new code for the entire 365,000 acres of unincorporated property in Richland County, including the unincorporated areas of Blythewood 29016.

County council had hired a consulting firm out of North Carolina to lay the ground work for the project.

In most cases the proposed changes would up-zone or change a property’s zoning and increase density over what is allowed in the 2005 LDC which is the rural zoning code Richland County has lived under for the last 18 years.

County staff issued a statement that the proposed policies would provide greater housing choices, ease the ability to infill, and provide more open space developments that result in better conservation of land.

As the consultant’s plan took shape, however, property owners were not happy that the proposal would outright permit duplexes, three-plexes, four-plexes, townhomes and manufactured homes in established single family neighborhoods. They said it would also be disruptive to the current rural zoning in the county in that most rezoning requests would no longer be required to come before county council for a decision, depriving nearby residents of being able to protest a rezoning that could allow undesirable uses next to their properties.

The consultant’s proposal that would replace the 2005 LDC was wide ranging and complex, so complex that council members have confessed to being confused and at times not understanding what they were voting on.

To that end, Richland County Council, whose make up is not the same as the council that earlier ordered the rezoning project, passed the consultant’s proposed LDC replacement to the 2005 LDC in November, 2021.

The replacement of the text (or law), however, could not become effective until council approved a new zoning map as well. So county staff went to work creating a zoning map to accommodate the law council had passed.

In early 2022, staff mailed a “map amendment notice to rezone” to all property owners in the unincorporated areas of Richland County, showing “assigned zoning districts” and stating, “The County has created a new zoning map as part of the 2021 land Development Code. This notice provides information regarding the new zoning map and the new zoning for your property.” 

That proposed new zoning, in most cases turned out to change how the land could be used going forward. For instance, if a Rural (RU) zoned property that boarded horses was assigned R2 zoning, a new owner of the property would not be allowed – under the new zoning – to board horses.

The notice from staff, however, had not been reviewed or approved by either the planning commission nor the county council and ignited a firestorm among their constituents in the unincorporated areas.

Wearing red and carrying signs that said: ‘Let us be RURAL’ and ‘Don’t Rezone My Property,’ rural residents and other interested parties from across Richland County packed the County Council chambers at the next meeting calling for a slowdown of the mass rezoning process or to shut it down.

Council heard their constituents and, in May, 2022, reversed themselves and voted to send the matter back to the planning commission for further review.

During the two years since then, the county’s planning commission, led by its then chairman, Jason Branham, has proposed amendments to both the consultant’s zoning law passed in 2021 by council and the zoning map proposed by staff.

Branham has since been elected to county council and will have a vote on the decision of whether the consultant’s replacement LDC or the planning commission’s proposed amendments will prevail.

Critics of the consultant’s replacement LDC adopted in 2021, and the staff’s map say both would exacerbate the current open space/cluster housing provisions that allow developers to build more houses on smaller lots than the current (2005 LDC) zoning requires as a reward for not building on land in a subdivision that is unbuildable to begin with. Other fallout they say would result from the 2021 law and the staff’s map would include the disruption in residential housing by multi-housing units and manufactured houses allowed in established single family neighborhoods.

Now council is in the midst of casting the final up or down votes on the planning commission’s amendments to the 2021 mass rezoning law and the map. It has approved first and second readings (6-4 and 7-4) of the planning commission’s amendments to staff’s zoning map. Council has also approved the following timeline for the remaining votes on the map and LDC text going forward:

  • Oct. 3 – Third and final reading for amendments to zoning map; first reading of amendments to 2021 LDC text
  • Nov. 7 – Public hearing for amendments to 2021 LDC text; second reading for amendments to 2021 LDC text
  • Nov. 14 – Third reading for amendments to 2021 LDC text

“The 2021 version is this wholesale replacement of our zoning in the unincorporated areas of the county,” Branham said. “That’s never been done since zoning was initiated in Richland County in 1977.

“The planning commission’s amendments would reduce any disruption to existing property owners while also providing a pathway for responsible future development. I believe it would eliminate some of the unexpected outcomes we’ve seen with residential development in recent years,” Branham said.

Council meetings are held at the County Administration Building, 2020 Hampton St., Columbia.

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]