Lexington County is losing its guru of growth.
Charlie Compton is retiring after 41 years as county planning director, a tenure in which he oversaw development that transformed the area from rural to half-suburban, and largely wrote the rules guiding that change.
“The work he’s done will impact Lexington County for years to come,” County Council chairman Johnny Jeffcoat said.
Compton stayed mostly out of the limelight in evolving into a trusted adviser to county leaders on attracting residents and jobs as well as a mentor for planners nationwide.
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“I like to refer to counties as places where the variety is great, the challenges are daunting and the potential is fantastic,” he said.
Other officials say Compton gently pushed the county to adapt guidelines for growth in new ways amid welcoming its arrival.
He adeptly balanced competing interests in pushing forward, they say.
“Communities sometimes are not quite ready for ideas, so you have to be patient,” said Greenwood County and City Planning Director Phil Lindler, a former Compton assistant.
Major steps taken under Compton’s tenure include:
▪ Storm water management standards in 1978
▪ Development rules in 1979 that spread across the 758-square-mile county in stages
▪ Controls on handling of industrial hazardous wastes in 1995
▪ Standards on operation of mines and quarries in 1998, updated last year
▪ Requirements for landscaping in new development in 1999
▪ Restrictions on the height of development around Lake Murray, the lower Saluda River and other waterways in 2006
▪ Rules on redevelopment of golf courses in 2008
▪ Creation of scenic corridors along 254 miles of roads in 2009
▪ A test of anti-blight controls in neighborhoods north of Lake Murray and near Lexington awaiting final approval.
“He kept us ahead of the curve,” County Planning Commission chairman Rock Lucas said of Compton. “He’s responsible for what this county is today better than anyone.”
I like to refer to counties as places where the variety is great, the challenges are daunting and the potential is fantastic.
Charlie Compton, retiring Lexington County planning director
County leaders sometimes are criticized as too accommodating toward development without fully realizing problems that ensue such as congested roads.
“Lexington County always moved forward carefully with any new development regulations, carefully judging whether the issues being addressed were public in nature and not private matters better left to the populace to decide for themselves,” Compton said.
The county’s population was 109,000 mostly scattered in small towns and farms when Compton became its first planning director in 1974.
Today it’s home to 280,000 people in steadily growing communities known mainly for good schools and the in-town resort lifestyle of Lake Murray.
Its bedroom suburbs are home to major employers such as Michelin, Amazon, South Carolina Electric & Gas and Nephron Phamaceuticals as well as commuters holding state jobs and working at the University of South Carolina in nearby Columbia.
Compton uses computers and airplane survey photographs to track development trends, much simpler and faster than the grid of sheets he spent months assembling on walls soon after taking the job to outline the county road network.
He’s a fan of technology, helping set up an automated method of following development’s spread in the county in 1989.
His role now includes advising county officials to guide decisions on steps such as site for new stations for firefighters and ambulances. He’s also done that for new schools in Lexington 1 and Lexington-Richland 5.
He took time to teach classes in local schools, developing games for youngsters that instill the basics of community planning and serving as a trainer at national seminars.
Compton also helped devise training standards for local planning panels and staff across South Carolina.
“It’s like he never gets worn down,” retired Clemson University professor Barry Nocks said. “He’s always looking at new things, moving forward.”
Friends say Compton’s longtime roots in the county made him conscious of doing the job well.
“He’s been influential because of his experience and knowledge of communities,” said planning consultant Cheryl Matheny, a former Compton aide. “That’s why people listen to him.”
His achievements were recognized nationally in 2010 when he was inducted in the American Institute of Certified Planners College of Fellows, the top honor in the profession.
The 70-year-old Compton admits to one major failure as a planner – staying in his post much longer than the five years originally intended – but adds “there are no regrets.”
As he cleans out his office before his official departure Sept. 30, Compton is turning over old maps and other items that may wind up in a small museum that may be established at county headquarters in Lexington.
But the future of one item – the tiger paw emblem of alma mater Clemson on a ceiling tile above his desk – is uncertain.
“It may not be allowed any more in a building full of (University of South Carolina) Gamecock alums,” he said.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
Veteran planner succeeds Compton
Holland Leger is taking charge of Lexington County’s effort to plan for growth.
Leger, 54, has been in the profession for 26 years, mostly in South Carolina.
He takes the post after five years as a planner in adjoining Richland County and more that a decade in Greenville County upstate.
He replaces Charlie Compton, who is retiring after guiding growth for 41 years in the 758-square-mile county.
Leger lives with his family near Irmo.