Let’s face it, the Rhino in the Room for Dorchester County Council in 2020 is solving the county’s complicated but urgent problems with Absence of Control (AC) District zoning and land development standards and ordinances. The rhino represents unmanaged urbanization, sprawl, traffic congestion, and stresses on the natural environment. Rewriting the AC zoning ordinances, using the county’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan) as a starting point, positions residents in front of managing growth instead of behind it. Although AC is complicated, it’s vital to our collective community’s quality of life, the rights of property owners, and our future economic development.
Essentially, the AC District includes the county’s unincorporated areas and affects 55% of the approximately 168,000 people living in the county. According to the Dorchester County Zoning and Land Development Ordinance 04-13, Section 9.1, the AC zoning is for selected rural portions of the county that are experiencing no development pressures. That’s interesting because huge portions of both Dorchester and Orangeburg Roads (clearly urban areas) are experiencing development pressures. On top of that, since 580 out of the 615 jobs announced in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019 were in rural Western Dorchester County, development pressures are rapidly moving westward. Remember, we’re talking 55% of the county’s population impacted by the absence of control ordinances.
I know that solving the AC issue is a concern of Council and county administration and has been for many years. According to the ‘18 Comp Plan, “large areas of land currently categorized as ‘absence of control’” require policies that create a balance between growth, the environment, and preservation of the unique cultural and natural characteristics of Dorchester County.” The current R-4 Multi-Family Rezoning Project around Knightsville and Slandsville is based on recommendations in the ‘18 Comp Plan. That ‘18 Comp Plan also identifies AC as a holdover concern from the ‘08 Comp Plan which speaks to why county leadership’s purposeful action is needed in ‘20. To reiterate, I believe we want to be in front of the rhino and not behind it.
I’m certain many readers have their own examples where current AC rules have adversely impacted their quality of life. The sand mining issue in the western portion of the county is a case in point. There are over 20 sand mines in or near the 29437 zip code. According to the Oct. 23, 2019 Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) meeting minutes, a significant number of residents (myself included) and homeowners petitioned the BZA not to approve the special exception request for a new sand mine near there and, in many instances, adjacent to their properties. The public passionately asked the board to consider the affects another sand mine would have on their personal safety, traffic congestion, property values, and future economic growth. One couple spoke of how, in early ’19, they had purchased their retirement dream home with its serene view of nature and picturesque scenes of sunsets off their back porch. Yet, now there will be a view of a sand mine operation where nature was once if the BZA approved the special exception request. The BZA approved the request (4-1) saying that, by law (i.e., AC District zoning regulations), their hands were tied, and the special exception had to be approved. (Standing behind the rhino stinks.)
What can we learn about the broader AC issues from the sand mine-BZA example? First, as mentioned earlier, rewriting AC is a complicated but urgent issue for Council and county administration. AC will involve many facilitated spirited discussions. We will have to discuss property rights of the individual and of a community of individuals, aligning economic development with our collective quality of life, educating the public on the pros and cons of AC, educating county leadership continuously on the community’s collective vision for our future, and, my favorite issue, how to implement facing the rhino from the front where the view is brighter and the smell better. I will address each of these issues in future articles. In the meantime, reach out to county leadership with your AC opinions and ideas. I’m confident they want to hear from you.