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Municipalities and Lexington County at odds over zoning and land use ordinances in incorporated areas of the county

Lexington, SC 04/24/2024 (Paul Kirby) - Many Lexington County mayors are up in arms at what they see as a strong-arm tactic being used by Lexington County to force them to give up control of zoning, and land use ordinances within their municipalities’ boundaries.

 

According to Mayor Al Koon with the Town of Chapin, last November, the County sent a letter to all Lexington County towns and cities telling them that the 40 + year-old agreement regarding residential roads and storm drainage maintenance between the municipalities and the County was going to be cancelled. Then, the county used these services as their leverage for getting something else they wanted. County officials wanted control of the towns and cities zoning and land use ordinances.

 

All Lexington County taxpayers pay for this maintenance through their property taxes each year. The County is targeting any new residential neighborhoods built in municipalities. They also threatened to withhold road and storm drain maintenance in any residential neighborhoods annexed into a town or city from this point forward unless the municipalities agreed to follow the County’s zoning and land use ordinances. “They aren’t talking about just roads and storm drainage systems that don’t meet the County’s standard for accepting them. We don’t allow neighborhoods to be built where the streets are not built to the County’s required specifications anyway.”

 

Last Friday, County Council Chairwoman Beth Carrigg and the County Administrator got together in Lexington with the mayors and city administrators of 7 municipalities to discuss this matter. That meeting was hosted by Lexington’s Mayor Hazel Livingston. In that meeting, the unified municipalities asked that the old agreement be put back in place to allow for more discussion. After that meeting, Mayor Livingston said in a prepared statement, “Based on the tone of that meeting, I left it somewhat optimistic that the county would reinstate the 40+ year-old agreement that they cancelled without notice.” Then, at Tuesday’s County Council meeting, the Council voted to continue to push for the new controls over the towns but offered the old agreement to 4 municipalities only.


(Mayor Hazel Livingston's Full Downloadable Statement Below)

 

Last week the Town of Lexington hosted a meeting that included mayors and administrators f
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Download • 29KB

 

The 4 municipalities that were made exempt from these demands were Cayce, West Columbia, Springdale, and Irmo. According to a vote taken during last Tuesday's County Council meeting, the Council voted to allow them to continue using their own zoning ordinances as they have for 40 + years. The reason the Council decided to grant those 4 specific municipalities an exemption really wasn’t clear according to Mayor Al Koon of the Town of Chapin.

 

Koon said he and his Council were fired up about the County trying to force the towns to use their zoning and land use ordinances and override their own. “The elected leaders of our town believe that our zoning and land use ordinances we have are what works for Chapin. Inside the Town is very much different than the county. A great deal of this stems from the county trying to control growth by dictating especially home density and land use in our town’s” he said. “They are also trying to prevent us from growing through annexation in my opinion,” Koon continued.


(Mayor Al Koon's Full Downloadable Statement Below)

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE_ Message From Mayor Al Koon_ 04.25.2024
.pdf
Download PDF • 68KB

 

 “In rural areas of the County, housing is usually less dense. As you get closer to the municipalities, you may need more homes per acre. Developers can afford to put fewer homes on an acre per the County’s zoning ordinances because of the size of the tracts available. The developers just pass the cost of the fewer homes per acre on to the buyers. In Chapin, where there are often different size tracts of land for development, we want to be able to use our ordinances that may allow for more homes per acre, or different setbacks, the distance from a home or outbuilding to the property line,” Koon explained. “In the Chapin neighborhood I live in, lots and homes are much smaller. I live in a senior living community and the residents don’t want large homes or yards to maintain. Our ordinances look at these things and we try to find an accommodating place for everyone who wants to live here,” Koon stated. “Even in neighborhoods where young families live in Chapin, they often want smaller lots that require less maintenance. They are busy people with kids who play ball, go to dance lessons, cub scouts, and do so much more. Some are young couples, often young professionals, who have no children now and may not plan to have any at all or soon. We have found these folks don’t want to spend a lot of time pushing a lawnmower or doing other chores around a big home.”

Koon pointed out that no Lexington County Council Member lives in the Town of Chapin and 8 out of the 9 County Councilmembers live nowhere near it.

 

Mayor Koon said that Chapin has allowed only one residential neighborhood to be built in town in more than a decade. “Because the cost of housing is so expensive in the Chapin area it is hard for our own police officers, teachers, or tradesmen to live in the Chapin area. It’s just too expensive,” Koon said. “If the County gets their way, you won’t see any of those people living here. It will price young couples, including young professionals or the technically trained workforce, and hourly workers completely out of the town and the surrounding areas. We will literally have to bring these people in from who knows where. We had a town employee recently that commuted in from Edgefield,” Koon pointed out. “If the county gets their wish, we’ll have more traffic on our roads as commuters will be coming in and out of the town during the 2 heavy commutes every day. We’ll need to have this so we can get a waitress into Chapin to wait tables, someone to bag our groceries at the store, and provide similar service that pay the employee less money.”  According to Koon, this will exacerbate traffic and congestion on the roads, not help it.

 

Lexington’s Mayor Livingston and other mayors say that what the County is doing violates South Carolina law. Regarding last Friday’s meeting, Livingston said, “The meeting opened and ended with the municipalities stating that home rule protection, including annexation and zoning powers, were non-negotiable and the proper lawful authority under South Carolina jurisprudence.  The municipalities emphatically feel that home rule protection is paramount and the consistent application of state law.”

 

Mayor Livingston continued, “Although the Town has not approved a new subdivision in over 18 months, the Town requires the developer to furnish a strategic roadway plan before approving any new residential subdivision.  Since 2020, the Town has only issued 796 Single Family Residential permits, with 69% of those being subdivisions that were pre-approved by the County.  During this very same time period, the County issued 5,981 Single Family Residential permits in unincorporated areas,” Livingston stated.

 

Livingston further said, “Most recently, the County approved a 68-unit Townhome project with the potential to expand to 200 units in the immediate proximity of the Town limits.  This is inconsistent with the Town’s comprehensive plan, which limits density in this area west of the Town of Lexington.”

 

It seems as if most of the County’s mayors feel that the County, not their municipalities, are responsible for the growth problem. The municipal leaders simply want to be left alone so they and their other elected leaders can manage the problems of growth within their town or cities boundaries themselves.

 

Over the coming weeks and months, you will see the anger levels rise as the struggle between the County and municipalities continues if the County doesn’t offer to come back to the table and negotiate in good faith. “The Town of Chapin has offered suggestions for compromise, but these suggestions have been met with full resistance from County personnel. Home rule guarantees us the right to govern at the lowest level of government. This allows someone who lives in a municipality to easily contact their elected officials and ask questions or express their opinions. This makes things easier for them and for us as the leaders of the municipalities. That’s the way the state legislature intended for things to be when they passed home rule decades ago, and that’s the way it needs to stay,” Mayor Koon concluded.  




 

 

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