Two rural areas, two views of Richland County’s future

dhinshaw@thestate.comFebruary 17, 2013 

  • Top concerns in Lower Richland
    Residents were asked to rate the most significant challenges facing their area. The top answers, in order, were: • Access to services, like grocery stores and medical offices • Housing and neighborhood quality • Unmanaged growth Respondents also were asked their most significant concerns in planning for the future. The top answers were: • Uncontrolled growth • Protection of natural assets • Farmland preservation
    Additionally, respondents were asked about the assets of Lower Richland. Their answers: • Proximity to downtown Columbia • Military installations • Congaree National Park For residents who’d like to participate in the survey, see More on Lower Richland • Boundaries of this 326-square mile area are Leesburg Road, U.S. 601 and the county line to the north; Wateree River to the east; Congaree River to the south and west. • Population: 21,830 • How most of the land is used: 27 percent is in timber; 23 percent is in pastures and crops; 22.5 percent is large residential lots of 10 acres or more; 14 percent is public parks or conservation land. Remainder is homes in smaller lots, commercial/industrial, military, schools and miscellaneous. SOURCE: LandDesign; Ryan & Associates; Richland County
  • Top Concerns in Spring Hill
    Residents were asked to rate the characteristics most important in maintaining Spring Hill’s character. The top answers, in order, were: • Being out in the country (tie) • Conservation and preservation of natural assets (tie) • Protection from development
    Additionally, they were asked their most significant concerns in planning for Spring Hill’s future. The top answers: Uncontrolled growth • Farmland preservation • Heir property rights Respondents also were asked about their community’s assets. Top answers were: • Large lot, single-family homes • The Broad River • Working farms For residents who’d like to participate in the survey, see More on Spring Hill Boundaries of this 16-square mile area are the Broad River/Fairfield County line to the north, the Newberry County line, the Lexington County line and Pet Sites Road. • Population: 1,217 people. Average tract of land: 14.75 acres. Just 59 homes have been built in Spring Hill in the past 10 years. SOURCE: LandDesign; Ryan & Associates; Richland County
  • Changing farmland Richland County lost 4,489 acres of farmland and 65 farms between 2002-05, or about 898 acres of agricultural land changing to other uses each of the five years. The five-year snapshot, the most recent data available, shows: • 429 farms covering 63,294 acres in Richland County in 2002 364 farms covering 58,805 acres in Richland County in 2005 The loss represents a 7 percent reduction in farmland over five years. SOURCE: Miley & Associates for Richland County

Residents of two of Richland County’s remaining rural areas are worried the county will allow the countryside they love to be devoured by uncontrolled growth.

Those attending planning meetings this month in Lower Richland and, at the other end of the county, Spring Hill, expressed some of the same concerns but focused on different solutions.

Residents in Lower Richland said they wanted close-by services, like a medical center, sidewalks and bike lanes, to make their communities more livable. Consultants talked about new ways to live off the land — preserving rich farmland by tapping into the “local food” movement and capitalizing on Congaree National Park and numerous historic sites to attract tourists.

In Spring Hill, county planners got a chilly reception from residents who said local officials had betrayed them, choosing their remote area for new schools and the subdivisions that will follow. They said they don’t want commercial development and have no interest in new services.

“The developers have a say-so, believe me. Everything they develop means more taxes for the county,” former real estate agent Ann Ashworth said. “So I want to know who listens to us.”

Here’s more on the conversations surrounding the areas’ master plans – the last two among 10 community studies that Richland County Council initiated in 2005. Project manager LaToya Grate, with the county’s planning office, said some have resulted in changes in land-use laws. Others have produced ideas for streetside beautification and traffic improvements poised for possible funding with the new transportation sales tax.

Lower Richland

At least eight new subdivisions have congregated within a half-mile of Herman Core’s home, off Lower Richland Boulevard, in the 15 years he’s lived there, he said.

“Development is already out of control,” said Core, an associate minister with Friendship Baptist Church.

His home near Lower Richland High School is now an urbanized area but still is without the sidewalks and bike lanes allowing active kids and health-conscious adults to walk to local parks and grocery stores. In fact, Grate, the county planner, said the only data she could find showed slightly less than three miles of sidewalks — and no bike lanes — in the Lower Richland study area.

Core said children are “trapped” in their neighborhoods because parents forbid them from walking along two-lane roads carrying heavy traffic.

“There’s a basketball goal in every cul-de-sac,” he said.

Bike lanes would provide safe travel, too, for cyclists attracted to the beauty of Lower Richland.

Consultants suggest that more tourists could be drawn to Lower Richland for the Congaree National Park and historic sites if there were more easy-to-manage connections among numerous attractions.

Preserving the farmland that adds to the area’s beauty and character is a related goal of those participating in the sessions. The consultants suggest the local food movement could work to Lower Richland’s advantage.

Wayne Adams, 56, said the next generation is receptive to “the green movement” and farming.

“I was raised on a farm, and I don’t do any farming, but I love the idea of organic farming,” Adams said. “I try to eat healthy.”

He also said the small towns of Hopkins, Eastover and Gadsden, where he lives, should cater to visitors by capitalizing on their history and character.

But the ideas contained in the land-use study require a change in attitude on the part of people unfamiliar with the area’s assets, he said. “We can showcase this community.”

Core, who sees a strong correlation between faith and health, said churches need to work with the county to spread the word on the potential of small farming operations.

Yvonne Brown, who lives in nearby Hopkins, said some of the recommendations in the land-use study are similar to those produced nearly a decade ago, encouraging urban-style development on land closest to Columbia.

“Right now, it seems whatever resources are going to be allocated to the Lower Richland area stop at Lower Richland Boulevard,” said Brown, 71, a retired principal.

Residents involved in the previous planning process were mainly concerned about their families being able to develop their land, Brown said. This go-round, participants seem interested in enhancing Lower Richland without “overdevelopment” by home builders or industry, she said.

One reason for the change in focus could be that Richland County Council recently tried to address complaints about subdivision regulations some residents found heavy-handed.

In 2005, the county started requiring landowners who carved up their land to build roads to county standards, drainage ways and sidewalks — regulations that were expensive for people who were not-for-profit home builders but wanted to share land with family, said zoning administrator Geonard Price.

In 2011, the council exempted families from the subdivision regulations.

Brown also said there’s been some confusion about how the county’s land-use plan dovetails with a separate plan being developed at the same time by the McEntire Joint National Guard Base and the Fort Jackson Army installation.

The two military bases are working with local governments to set out protective noise and potential crash zones, said Norman Whitaker with the Central Midlands Council of Governments. Tactics could involve requiring more sound-proof materials in new buildings; prohibiting any new high-rise buildings or high-density developments nearby; or setting aside land in conservation easements, he said.

Spring Hill

Spring Hill is a community in the remote corner of Richland County where it meets with Lexington, Fairfield and Newberry counties.

But things are poised to change in this rural outlier, where there’s talk of an anti-tax secession movement.

Lexington-Richland 5 is building a new high school, trade school and middle school on 120 acres it owns along Broad River Road. The new high school will open this fall.

Many residents accustomed to the slow pace, heavy tree cover — and the refreshing drop in temperature — that envelops them when they get off I-26 at the Peak exit said county planners are merely patronizing them.

They say they’ve been burned before — most recently in June 2004 when they gathered to fight a subdivision planned by the Mungo Co. across from the new schools. Now they don’t expect Richland County Council to take their opinions into account.

“We just kind of want to be left alone,” said Rich Mitchell, who moved to Spring Hill nine years ago.

Residents there are asking for a different development standard for their community — five-acre home lots that would maintain a sense of seclusion.

Now, land zoned for rural use allows one house per 3/4-acre, though residents said some home builders have had their land rezoned to build as many as four homes per acre.

Mitchell, 53 and a mechanical contractor, said he and his neighbors are suspicious about why the county wants to do the study and why some property traditionally part of Spring Hill was omitted from the study.

He said the land-use plan would have gone over better if local residents, not outside consultants, led the meetings.

Commercial real-estate broker Jeff Hein, 46, said this time of year, when leaves are off the trees, he can barely see his closest neighbor. Two adjoining property-owners have horses.

“I lived in the Irmo area and I moved out there because I wanted a little more land,” he said.

Joy Connor said the five-acre rule would cut into the profits of subdivision developers, who might then look elsewhere for land.

Connor, 48, a massage therapist who lives on 120 acres of family land, said she’s feeling a little threatened.

“On the other side of the interstate, they just mowed down trees and put up eight gigantic apartment buildings. I have no idea where that many people would come from, but they’re coming.”

People in Spring Hill drink well water and use septic systems. Some said they are not interested in any additional services, parks or trails.

They told consultants bike lanes along their roads would only encourage more cyclists.

But Connor and Hein disagree. They said bike lanes are a good idea for safety’s sake.

The other needed service mentioned by some at the meeting is better fire service. Spring Hill has a volunteer fire department.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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