Richland County Council rejects mass rezoning; OKs amendments

Pugh, Barron & Mackey Vote for Amendments

RICHLAND COUNTY – Richland County Council passed 10-1, Tuesday night, a final version of an ordinance to adopt text amendments recommended by the Richland County Planning Commission to the 2021 Land Development Code (LDC).

It was the finalization of the second part of a new LDC that will regulate development in the unincorporated parts of the county. Last month Council gave final approval (9-1) to 78 amendments to the other part of the LDC – a zoning map.

The newly adopted LDC will set new limits on density in rural areas of the county in several ways. It will provide limits on bonus density and eliminate most cluster housing and zero lot lines. The amendments will also prevent multi-plex units and manufactured housing from being allowed to disrupt established single-family neighborhoods.

“I want to thank the 2022 version of council that sent [this] back to the planning commission for further consideration and the planning commission for the hours they put into drafting the recommendations and public feedback,” said Councilman Jason Branham, who previously served as chair of the planning commission during the two years it fretted out the amendments to the 2021 Code.

Branham gave a special thanks to the public for their engagement and feedback over the last several years.

“You were the wind in the sails of this movement,” he said.

While the mass rezoning effort was seen by much of the public as a nod to developers, Branham cautioned that growth and development are needed.

“Developers are not the enemy of our community,” he said.

He pointed out, however, that, “all the tools needed for any kind of project are available in this version of the LDC.

“These codes are a little more specific so that whatever a developer or applicant is looking for in a rezoning request, they’re going to have to ask for that specific thing,” he said. “That’s going to lead to greater transparency of the rezoning processes, and it will lead to more predictable outcomes in the type of development that happens. It’s a victory for everyone involved.

“I could call [this long process] a labor of love, but it would be a lie,” he said to laughter from the audience, staff and his fellow council members.

“This process has been an example of government responding to the public,” Branham said after the map amendments were adopted last month.

It was in 2016 when Richland County planning and develop ment began working to replace the county’s 2005 Land Development Code (LDC) with a mass rezoning of 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 or 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.

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