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Public hearing on Zoning Overlay District shows divide between established versus new residents

Lexington, SC (Paul Kirby) – The public hearing that was held Tuesday evening in Lexington was well attended as the Lexington County Council heard from citizens regarding a proposed Zoning Overlay District. That would change the number of homes anyone could build on an acre of land in the overlay area. One resident who attended said that you could feel passion from people on both sides of the issue who spoke, but more importantly, as they talked among themselves before and after the season of council in small groups.

The proposed Zoning Overlay District, an area that encompasses all of Councilman Darrell Hudson’s district and parts of others, would change the density rules on free standing homes or mobile homes within that area. This is if they’re outside a town or city where their Zoning Ordinances would apply. It also has nothing to do with commercial construction.

Currently, the Zoning Regulations in place accommodate up to 11 residential units, a figure some councilmembers say is very misunderstood. With current Zoning Regulations in place regarding setbacks from property lines and other space and distance requirements, you couldn’t get 11 single-family, free-standing homes on an acre one councilman explained. The 11 units would have to be common wall construction like townhomes in order to make that even feasible according to another. The new proposed regulations would affect detached houses or mobile homes surrounded by yard that would make it an individual unit. That’s what the change would apply to and that’s where you could only have four per acre. This change, if it passes, wouldn’t apply to projects that have already begun or been approved. It also wouldn’t apply to new phases of current neighborhoods according to council Chairman Scott Whetstone. He said that if a developer can acquire contiguous land to an existing development, the new rules wouldn’t apply to that land. Instead, the Zoning Ordinance that covered the original development would be what covers the new phase.

According to a resident that attended the hearing, the argument for the change seemed to be mostly from the people who have been in Lexington County, and particularly the area around the Town of Lexington, for a longer period. “The people who seemed to be supporting the ordinance were people who remember when things weren’t so busy and it didn’t take forever to get somewhere, when there wasn’t bumper-to-bumper traffic constantly,” he said. “They don’t want a lot more people; they liked things more like they were,” he said.

On the other side, he said the people who oppose the change were a mixture that was not what he expected. He said he tried to listen to many of the conversations in the halls and the comments at the podium as possible. “The people who opposed the change seemed to be a strange mixture of younger people, some senior citizens, and a few people who owned larger tracts of land like farmers or people who inherited land from their parents or families.”

He said that the busy, younger families didn’t want or have the time for a large yard or big homes to maintain. “I heard people talking about how busy their lives were and what they thought was home. To them, home is a place to slow down just a minute, eat, sleep, bath, and change clothes before rushing off again to school, work, ball practice, or church. These people don’t think of a home with a big yard as a trophy that shows they made it like their parents did,” he said. “Their house is about equal to their car. It’s just something they need as part of their busy lives.” He said he also heard older residents who were over large houses and yards. “They seem to want shopping, restaurants, and entertainment nearby. They wanted access to sidewalks, walking trails, or public recreation like tennis courts or golf it sounded like to me.” He said one man took to the podium who talked about owning a large tract as a farmer. “He said his family had owned and worked the land for years, but now farming near Lexington wasn’t anywhere near as profitable as selling his land for development. He sounded as if he knew that developers only build what people want and that was smaller homes with smaller yards. One person who was talking in the crowd said that the big, showplace homes are on the lake and that’s not where developers are trying to put more than four homes per acre now without this new deal in place,” he said. “Basically, it seemed to be the older, established Lexington people versus the people who were or have been coming over the last few decades. It’s people who don’t want Lexington to change anymore against the people who’ve made it change by moving here and wanting something different. That sums it up if I had to say.” When asked if he got a feel for how the crowd was split, he said there were probably more people there who supported the ordinance but said that the busy people with the busy families don’t often attend these types of things. “They’re at soccer or gymnastics or some practice somewhere, not sitting up here listening to this,” he joked.

Last night was just a required public hearing. Before the proposed ordinance is approved, it will take more action by the council. Those will be included on the agendas that are publicized for the citizen via the county’s website and the media.

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