South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Greenville County Rural Land

Perhaps more than anywhere else in the state, suburban sprawl into rural and agricultural lands is plaguing Greenville County, not just in terms of environmental quality but also in terms of overall quality of life. We have been working for well over a year with citizens groups in the southern and northern parts of the County, and we are now in court on their behalf.

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Background

In an unprecedented move to curb bad development, in 2018 Greenville County amended its Land Development Regulations in order to allow rejection of subdivisions that are not "compatible with the surrounding land use density" or the site's environmental conditions. Accordingly, the Planning Commission started rejecting several new subdivisions proposed in rural areas. Unsurprisingly, the developers did not take it well and, in the case of a project in northern Greenville County, even sued the commission, which has since taken a much more subdued stance, greenlighting other ill-sited and ill-conceived projects.

Tigerville and Article 3.1

The Ethan Richard Estates project envisions 31 homes on a 23-acre property along Tigerville Road in an unincorporated part of the County. In stark contrast, the adjoining properties are 10 and 14 acres each, both with a single residence and mixed agricultural use. The existing property density and usage are typical of the area, and community opposition to this aberrant subdivision has been strong and persistent. Appropriate land use regulation is a critical tool for environmental protection, and our local government must be empowered to use it for the greater good, which is exactly what Article 3.1 of the Land Development Regulations makes possible.

After the Planning Commission reconsidered its initial approval and denied approval of the project in July 2018, the developer sued the commission in Circuit Court, seeking the reversal of the denial. This litigation threatened not only to disfigure the affected rural tract, but also to eviscerate the new land planning regulation and the County’s power to protect rural lands in general. We therefore intervened in the appeal on behalf of neighbors. After a prolonged but unsuccessful mediation, several hearings were held, with the Court gradually realizing the wider implications for Greenville County land planning. In January 2020, the Court sided with the developers. However, the ruling was not based on the subdivision’s incompatibility with surrounding land use density under Article 3.1, but rather on the commission’s lack of legal authority to reconsider its earlier approval of the project.

Saving the Bunched Arrowhead

While the litigation on Tigerville progressed, a new subdivision called Crestfield Farm was proposed in a rural part of Greenville County where many surrounding properties have been acquired for conservation of extraordinarily rare plant life, including the endangered bunched arrowhead. SCELP represented the community before the Planning Commission and in early January 2020, the applicant withdrew its proposal. Adding to the good news, we also learned that conservationists are planning to purchase the property to allow the rare plant species to thrive.

Case Update

As soon as the January 2020 Circuit Court’s decision in favor of the developers re-instated the initial approval of the Tigerville subdivision, we appealed it before the same Court on the grounds of its incompatibility with Article 3.1 of the Land Development Regulations. The outcome of this case holds the fate of the rural subdivision ordinance in the balance.

Indeed, the Tigerville lawsuit seems to have tamed the enthusiasm for the new regulations and in February 2020, the Planning Commission green-lit the high-density Oakvale subdivision in the Blue Ridge area, setting a dangerous precedent for the Upstate's rural lands, which face increasing encroachment. In response to this faulty decision, in May we filed an appeal with the Circuit Court.

Moreover, just a few weeks after reviewing our arguments to stop the Oakvale subdivision, another high-density subdivision called Fews Crossing was approved practically next door. Both subdivisions raise flooding issues on Foyster Creek, which has flooded infrastructure in the last year. And, both subdivisions defy the county's sensible land development regulations.

Like with Oakvale, in August we filed an appeal of the Fews Crossing approval on behalf of Northern Greenville County Rural Landowners.

You can download a copy of the three appeals below.

Files and Downloads
Greenville County Rural Land

Download the issue handout

Greenville County Rural Land

Greenville County Rural Land

The primary factor determining the rarity of bunched arrowhead is the current rarity of its required habitat. The seepage habitat in which bunched arrowhead occurs is extremely threatened, and remaining bunched arrowhead populations are threatened by residential and industrial development, conversion to pasture, and invasive exotic species.