Residents of two of Richland Countys 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 dont 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.
Heres 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 countys 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.
At least eight new subdivisions have congregated within a half-mile of Herman Cores home, off Lower Richland Boulevard, in the 15 years hes 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.
Theres 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 areas beauty and character is a related goal of those participating in the sessions. The consultants suggest the local food movement could work to Lower Richlands advantage.
Wayne Adams, 56, said the next generation is receptive to the green movement and farming.
I was raised on a farm, and I dont 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 areas 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 theres been some confusion about how the countys 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 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 theres 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 theyve 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 dont 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 shes 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 theyre 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 safetys 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.