Following an August 9, 2021 Town Hall citizen meeting with County Council Representative Darryl Hudson and some State Representatives for Lexington County, the West Lexington Community Grassroots group of concerned citizens formed and began gathering information about development in our area of Lexington County. Initially, our interest focused on four proposed apartments all to be located within a 2 mile radius of the Publix at Hendrix Crossing which would place a burden on our already strained infrastructure. However, in early Fall of 2021, while gathering information we learned our county had out of date county zoning laws that had not been changed since 1987, except when they were loosened in 2008 during the recession and resulting housing crisis, which left us vulnerable to irresponsible development placing a burden on and threatening our infrastructure. These ordinances allowed developers of 10 homes or more to build up to 12 houses per acre, a minimum of 10 feet apart and 20 feet from the road with 10 percent open space requirement, to clear cut the land, contained limited multi-family unit restrictions, allowed plans to be submitted one phase at a time, etc. The amount of density allowed from these ordinances placed some areas of our county in a concerning and even dangerous situation when you think about how public safety services, public utilities, medical facilities, and schools will keep up with this kind of allowed irresponsible growth pace. Simply put, Lexington County can not continue to sustain the kind of rapid growth these out of date ordinances allowed on our already strained infrastructure (schools, roads, public safety, public utilities, recreational services, medical services, etc).
The encouraging news we learned was that Lexington County Council had voted 7-2 ,with then Chairman Todd Cullum and councilwoman Debbie Summers voting no, to place a six month building moratorium from June 2021 - December 2021. During this moratorium time the county was not accepting any new residential development applications from developers. This building moratorium allowed county staff and the County Council the needed time to propose new zoning ordinances, put them through the required state statue process of 3 readings, a public hearing, and planning commission review, and pass more responsible development ordinances for Lexington County.
During this Building Moratorium and proposed ordinance process, the original West Lexington grassroots banded together with other citizen groups and formed a grassroots movement called Develop Lexington County Responsibly (DLCR) because our schools, roads, public safety, and future depend on it! DLCR worked to inform citizens of these proposed ordinances and encouraged citizens to become actively involved to help our communities in Lexington County develop in a responsible manner keeping infrastructure in mind. A Facebook site called “Develop Lexington County Responsibly”, this DLCR.org webpage, and an ever growing citizen email list has been used for citizen communication. We wore blue shirts to show unity to county council meetings, including the Public Hearing in Sept 2021, sent emails and made phone calls to county council members. We found through the process that about 4-5 county council members were working for the citizens and were also concerned about the impact these old ordinances were having on our infrastructure. On November 30, 2021, the third and final reading on three ordinances was taken at a County Council meeting and all three ordinances passed : Ordinance 21-13 (Lake Murray Overlay/ Agricultural Overlay/ county wide multifamily (apts) ordinances) passed with a vote of 6-3 with the no votes being cast by Councilman Todd Cullum who was Chairman at the time, Councilwoman Debbie Summers, and Councilman Glen Conwell who was Vice Chair at the time. The other two ordinances, 21-14 and 21-15, passed unanimously.
A special thanks goes out to the six County Council members who showed with a consistent vote of “yes” throughout this process that they are truly working for citizens and not developers. These newer Council members Charli Wessinger, Beth Carrigg, Darrell Hudson along with support from Councilmembers Scott Whetsone, Larry Brigman, and Gene Jones helped to pass the Building Moratorium along with Ordinances 20-18, 21-13, 21-14, and 21-15 which are steps in the right direction to develop our county in a more responsible manner with infrastructure in mind moving forward.
The new ordinances which went into effect for any residential development application of 10 homes or more after the building moratorium was lifted in December 2021 brought about much needed changes such as : developers of 10 homes or more will be allowed to build up to 4 houses per acre at a minimum of 20 feet apart and 30 feet from the road, require developers to conduct and submit a required tree inventory and keep 25 percent of the trophy trees, require more open space, require developers to submit the whole development plan instead of one phase at a time, adds additional requirements for multi-family units (apartments) such as all apartments must be built on 4 lane roads, among several other positive changes countywide. In addition, to protect most of the Saluda River/Lake Murray Water Shed and to protect agriculture in the southern part of our county, these ordinances have additional density restrictions in areas called the Lake Murray Overlay District and the Agricultural Overlay District. Within these two designated overlay areas of the county, developers may only build 4, 3, 2, or 1 house(s) per acre based on street classification as well as increased buffers and open space requirements.
An important note that was mentioned at the final vote was that there were approximately 7.500 homes countywide in the “pipeline” meaning that their applications had been received prior to the building moratorium being put into place and therefore will be allowed to build under the old ordinances. So, for a while we will still see high density of up to 12 per acre, stacked closely together, clear cutting the land, etc for some subdivisions but in time we will begin to see evidence of the new ordinances taking place.
Again, we are very thankful for County Council members who worked hard for the citizens to get these ordinances passed and also for the County Staff, especially Robbie Derrick and his Community Development staff, who put in a lot of time and energy to help in the process.
After the ordinances passed and the building moratorium was lifted in December 2021, our grassroots group decided to continue to follow County Council committee meetings and regular meetings as well as any information citizens needed to be aware of from the county level in an effort to keep citizens informed and encourage citizens to become and remain actively involved. Also, because our public schools are a major driving force for development, as we become informed of school district information that pertains to county growth and development and infrastructure we share information with citizens for awareness and inform of ways for citizens to have input or a voice within their corresponding school district.
Positive community changes happen when community members work together and this process was evidence of this happening. When citizens pay attention, speak up, and show up it makes an impact. We encourage all Lexington County Citizens to become informed and actively involved at the county and school district level as we want our communities in Lexington County to develop responsibly… our schools, roads, public safety, and future depend on it.