Let’s admit it: we dodged a bullet.
When Pickens County Councilman Wes Hendricks contacted Upstate Forever about a proposal before the Pickens County Planning Commission last summer, none of us could have imagined the passion for Glassy Mountain that would be unleashed.
But the record-breaking crowd that attended the commission meeting in June was certainly an indicator. Citizens spoke up about how important the iconic monadnock was to them and that they had trusted the Comprehensive Plan – developed with community input – to convey the importance that the area maintain its rolling pastoral and agrarian character.
Upstate Forever testified that our recent studies – based on local data – indicate that sprawling developments such as the one proposed for Glassy actually cost taxpayers more in the long run. We also highlighted other concerns about the development in our statement. The Planning Commission disagreed and approved the development, so Upstate Forever joined with adjacent landowners Shelly Smith and Doug Hinkle to appeal the decision.
During this entire process, we also repeatedly suggested that the 183 acre property would make a wonderful voluntary conservation easement project – whereby the owners continue to maintain ownership of the exquisite property but they take advantage of tax credits available for keeping the land undeveloped. We were thrilled when we learned that the owners had indeed chosen this option, working with the Atlantic Coast Conservancy to craft an easement that protects the family’s right to a homesite and adjacent landowners’ access right-of-ways, as well as the abundant natural features of the property.
But what blew us away was how grateful Pickens County citizens were for this outcome. We announced it in a Facebook post on Dec. 15 and were stunned by the response. That post alone was shared 123 times, more than we have ever seen for a social media post. Facebook estimated that the post’s “reach” was almost 16,000 individuals. Each “share” was a celebration of the outcome.
But I must circle back to my opening comment: we dodged a bullet.
This could happen again unless Pickens County takes action to truly codify its Comprehensive Plan by strengthening its land use development ordinances and putting tools in place that encourage development in areas where infrastructure is already adequate while discouraging it in areas like Glassy. This is a win for taxpayers as well as for those who love their special rural areas. Sprawling development in existing rural and agricultural areas costs taxpayers in terms of road upgrades, water and sewer service, increased police and fire coverage, and schools. Those costs continue to rise over time and are borne by the local taxpayers, not by the developer.
Additionally, unless we preserve the Upstate’s most iconic places and natural heritage, we will end up looking like “Anywhere, USA.”
Upstate Forever’s mission is just that –preserving the special character of the ten-county Upstate by balancing growth with natural resource protection. Our work directly affects our residents’ quality of life. Rarely do we oppose specific developments, but in the case of Glassy, there was no way we could let the community and the Upstate take this bullet.
All of our Upstate counties – not just Pickens – need to get serious about managing growth more proactively, thoughtfully, and efficiently. In the next 25 years, the Upstate is projected to welcome more than 300,000 new residents. 90 percent of that growth will occur in just four counties, Pickens being one.
Growth management can happen through regulation, but can also be done in part through communities proactively identifying where it is most sensible for development to occur, and then incentivizing developers to those areas through density bonuses, streamlined permitting, public-private partnerships, etc. Solutions like these help promote responsible economic development while protecting our natural resources for a vibrant future.
But today, we celebrate and give thanks. Upstate Forever would like to thank Councilman Wes Hendricks, landowners Doug Hinkle and Shelly Smith, Glassy Mountain Holdings and the Finlay family, the Atlantic Coast Conservancy, the many media outlets who covered the story as it progressed, and the citizens of Pickens County who spoke up, who cared, and who rejoiced with us. Happy New Year to all.
Andrea Cooper is the executive director of Upstate Forever and can be reached at email@example.com.