Like so many metropolitan areas in the country with important urban centers, Richland County is growing rapidly both in population and development of once vacant land. Known as “sprawl,” this type of new development is costly, inefficient and inequitable. In response to sprawl, the Richland County Council adopted a comprehensive land use plan to advance the following goals over the next twenty years: 1) ensure efficient growth to control infrastructure costs; 2) improve the quality of life; and 3) preserve environmentally sensitive lands, special historic and cultural sites and open spaces. The County Council attempts to support development, while also engaging in preservation planning. It recently drafted zoning ordinance revisions to advance its comprehensive land use plan.
This report reviews the land use plan, the demographic data upon which it was based and updates the demographic data. Based on these data, the report identifies some implications of sprawl in Richland County and the likely ramifications of the County Council’s response to it.
Both the historic and current data demonstrate that the need for sprawl control differs greatly across the County. The Plan describes the County by “planning area” and demonstrates that the areas with the most serious sprawl are the Northeast, I-77 Corridor and the Northwest planning areas. It also makes clear that Lower Richland, the North Central and I-20 Corridor planning areas are economically depressed and are experiencing significantly less sprawl. Therefore, based on the data presented by the Plan, these areas appear to need development. Further, residents in these areas need access to the benefits of growth in other parts of the County.
An examination of more recent demographic profiles of the planning areas shows that the difference in development patterns across planning areas continues today. For example, while the actual rate of housing construction in Lower Richland has been slowing, it has been increasing rapidly in the Northeast. Moreover, Lower Richland, the North Central and I-20 Corridor planning areas have the lowest median household incomes, the highest percentages of people on public assistance and social security, or with no reported earnings. The County Council’s land use planning, however, does not address the different growth needs in different parts of the County.
The County’s land use plan focuses on: greater densities in new and existing communities; walkable neighborhoods; some mixed-use development; and preservation of open spaces. The County Council attempts to achieve its goals through redevelopment of some existing communities and development of new “villages” in designated sites in various parts of the County. Its draft zoning ordinance, currently under consideration, would reduce maximum densities and establish a zoning framework to accomplish the vision described by the Plan.
This report finds that the Plan is not likely to meet stated goals and may well harm vulnerable communities. Specifically:
1) The incentives for growth in the Northeast and Northwest planning areas of the County remain undiminished by the new zoning ordinance. It contains incentives for higher density “villages,” but does not sufficiently reduce the attractiveness of or create sufficient disincentives for growth outside of the “villages.”
2) It does not sufficiently consider the need for development in some portions of the County. For example, there are few incentives for growth and development in Lower Richland or the North Central planning areas, which have high unemployment. Blacks in these parts of the County have a high percentage of land/property ownership. It is unclear what the impact of development disincentives will have on the value of Black owned land. The only incentives for new development in these areas –“Non-employment villages” – would ensure the concentration of poverty in predominantly Black townships. Blacks, already finding it difficult to access quality education, credit, and jobs, may find it even more difficult to do so.
The Report recommends that:
1. The County Council postpone consideration of any zoning ordinance revisions pending further study of the racial impact of the Comprehensive Plan; and
2. After receiving important impact findings, the County Council invite community input based on the racial impact analysis and revise its Comprehensive Plan and draft zoning ordinance to address inequities which exist in current land use planning practices.
Additional research is necessary to determine whether and to what extent the draft zoning ordinance may further impoverish poor communities by serving to reduce land values. There are also important questions related to the extent to which the Plan and the draft zoning ordinance may serve to reinforce racial segregation and isolate Blacks from meaningful opportunities, including affordable housing, transportation, jobs and a quality education. Only by answering these questions may the County Council and the communities it serves identify opportunities for equitable sprawl control and promotion of meaningful growth opportunities for those who need them.