Originally created 11/13/97

South Carolina counties look to balance urban growth, preservation



GREENVILLE, S.C. -- As counties throughout South Carolina continue to grow, local officials are looking for ways to save some green space amid the housing developments and shopping malls.

Coastal counties are studying the creation of greenbelts, areas where extending water and sewer lines would be discouraged. Some cities have established recreational areas along rivers, similar to Greenville's Reedy River Park.

State law says counties must update their land-use plans by 1999. This week, the Greenville Chamber of Commerce sponsored a conference to discuss ideas of balancing environmental and social needs this week.

As an example, the percentage of Greenville County covered by houses, businesses, golf courses, airports and industrial plants has doubled in the past 20 years. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency that tracks land use changes, estimates urban land has increased from 15 percent to 28 percent in the county.

"The question is not whether were going to initiate these programs, but whether we do them in time," said Dana Beach, executive director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League.

His organization is working with Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties to create an urban growth boundary to contain development around the Charleston metro area.

"I think if we really hold dear the reverence that we have for the rural beauty and quality of life in of South Carolina, then we've got to put plans in place that's going to protect it," Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said.

Jimmy Forbes, Greenville County Planning Commission director, does not favor a growth boundary. He said the county will meet with water and sewer providers in hopes of reaching a common strategy to direct growth and guide infrastructure decisions.

There is some resistance to land preservation. Residents in Mount Pleasant, a city of 40,000 people across the Cooper River from Charleston, voted last week not to raise property taxes to preserve land.

Town Administrator Mac Burdette said the city would have used the additional $250,000 a year to buy development rights on key parcels of land. Owners then would leave the land in its agricultural or natural state.

The proposal would have raised property taxes on a $100,000 house by about $16 a year. The referendum lost by 45 votes out of 2,500 cast.

Clemson and the Natural Resources Department will map the state according to land uses, plant cover and the animals that live there so officials can learn what areas are most in danger from development.

The two major areas of concern are the Upstate and the coast. "That's where all the action is," said Dave Otis, who heads the South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Clemson.