Joint planning needed in border areas

August 19, 2012 

WITH IMPENDING development in and around Olympia, it’s no wonder that some residents worry about the future of the historic mill villages and are looking to local government officials for direction.

Columbia and Richland County should oblige them by working together to help guide development and preserve the community’s character. Residents won’t like every change, but local officials can help ensure that whatever transpires is done in an orderly manner.

This isn’t just about Olympia. Columbia and Richland long have needed to develop a collaborative approach to zoning, planning and development in border areas.

Wherever city and county lines meet — and there are too many such places, thanks to doughnut-hole annexations and other bizarre configurations in the fast-growing suburbs of Northwest and Northeast Richland — development is influenced by the separate rules of two oft-competing philosophies.

Poor communication creates confusion and unintended consequences, placing orderly development at risk and forcing incompatible developments to coexist.

The ideal answer is for the city and county to merge planning and zoning departments and planning commissions, something they have discussed countless times over the years but failed to achieve.

In the meantime, the two can help make life better for those in border areas by working together to outline how land can be used. While it’s inherently practical, that happens rarely, if ever. Instead, the county and city make independent decisions that create problems they must address later. Or try to address later.

Olympia residents long have longed for revitalization. For sure, the area has seen been some positive changes, including the redevelopment of Olympia and Granby mills into high-end apartments, the development of 701 Whaley arts center, the opening of USC’s baseball stadium, work on the Three Rivers Greenway and plans for the University of South Carolina’s research campus. There also are plans to redevelop a corner on Olympia Avenue where residents did laundry and shopped, and of course a proposed Wal-Mart shopping center along Assembly Street.

Clearly, the new development will affect the mill villages. The question is how. The area that will be affected by the proposed Wal-Mart is represented by three different city and county councilmen.

Not only does it make sense for the city and county to jointly guide development in the area, but it would be to their advantage to promote the preservation and revitalization of the Olympia, Granby and Whaley neighborhoods. Once restored, these villages would add to the local tax base and compliment the other development that has taken place and will take place.

Success in Olympia could be a springboard for Columbia and Richland to tackle the challenge of managing development in border areas, which confronts counties and cities across our state. They must not blow this opportunity.

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