“If you take away people’s ability to be able to zone themselves, it is nothing but communism.” – Councilman Joe Dill
All seemed smooth as Greenville County Council moved quickly through their agenda on Tuesday, February 15th until it came to a piece of property located off a two-lane State-maintained collector road, Griffin Mill Road which is owned by Dyrone Derek Moss.
On behalf of Moss, Alvin Thomas Johnson of Levi Grantham Land Group, LLC requested to rezone the 15 acres of land from R-S, Residential Suburban District, to R-15, a Single Family Residential District where they plan to develop approximately 30 units on this property.
This property is currently a part of the Plan Greenville County Comprehensive Plan. According to this plan, this property is designated as Mixed Employment Center, Floodplain, and Suburban Mixed Use. There are no schools within a mile, as well as no bus routes and no sidewalks in the area. This parcel is 0.67 miles southwest of the intersection of Interstate I-85 and Fork Shoals Road. It has approximately 560 feet of frontage along Griffin Mill Road.
This rezoning request was approved by well-qualified members of both the Planning Department Staff and Greenville County Planning Commission but denied by the Planning & Development Committee who voted against it due to issues/lack in existing infrastructure. The Planning Department Staff stated that they approved it despite the property not aligning with the Future Land Use of the Comprehensive Plan, but they concluded that the parcel, however, is surrounded by similar zoning and density.
During the progression of the meeting, Councilman Dill submitted this ordinance request at 2nd reading before Council. Councilman Ennis Fant informed that this property is in the Moonville area of Southern Greenville and reminded Council that for the past five years they have voted to slow the growth of that area. He recommended denying the request so they can be consistent with their past actions and with the local residents of the area where this property resides.
“It is apparent that the ‘kill committee’ has moved from the finance committee to the full committee now.” -
Councilman Dan Trip, who was participating in the meeting via remote, asked if he could set the record straight. He reminded Fant that this property is not in his or Councilman Ballard’s district. He also corrected Fant by stating that this property is not in Moonville but off Fork Shoals Road in his district.
Councilman Trip then requested if the Council would hold this ordinance and let him talk with the owner. He addressed Fant concerning an earlier discussion that appeared that they had agreed to hold it, and Trip asked if he would honor that stated agreement.
Council Chairman Willis Meadows accepted the motion to hold it and put it to a vote. After a mixed audible vote, Meadows decided to call for a roll call vote in which Dan Trip, Joe Dill, Chris Harrison, Liz Seman, Lynn Ballard, and Butch Kirven voted to hold. And Michael Barns, Steve Shaw, Willis Meadows, Stan Tzouvelekas, Xanthene Norris, and Ennis Fant voted to not hold it. So, the motion to hold was defeated by a tie that seemed to set a standard for the rest of the evening’s hot topics.
“You gave up your right to district deferment a year ago when you came into district 25 and district 26 with both feet and stayed as long as you wanted to.” -
As the Chairman was preparing to start the vote on the ordinance as submitted, Councilman Trip asked to be heard. He stated, “It is apparent that the ‘kill committee’ has moved from the finance committee to the full committee now.” He stated that he can distinctly remember about six months ago to a year ago when, according to Fant, warfare broke out over us not going along with what he wanted in his district. He then turned to Chairman Meadows and said that he remembered Meadows pulling him to the side and saying, “If it is in your district, I am going to support you. I want you to do the same thing for Mr. Fant.” Six months later, he tells the Chairman that you are not listening to what I want in my district and tells Councilman Fant that you are trying to make it sound like it is in his and Mr. Ballards districts. He then challenges by saying all is fair in love and war if he is going to take that pact after having agreed with him that he would vote for the motion to hold until he can discuss with the owner of the property.
The Chairman then recognized Fant’s request to speak. Fant said he has been consistent with the people of that area who are against this ordinance. Fant then challenged Trip by saying, “You gave up your right to district deferment a year ago when you came into district 25 and district 26 with both feet and stayed as long as you wanted to.” He then made it clear that Trip does not get to come into his district and stay until he gets tired and tells me he resents the fact that I come into his. That is called a privilege with a descriptive adjective in front of it that you do want to go to.
“Laid down the gauntlet tonight and the battle is on, brother.” -
After Trip interjected that he would be happy to go to it, he stated that Fant has, “Laid down the gauntlet tonight and the battle is on, brother.” As Trip and Fant battle to try addressing the Council, Chairman Meadows gives back the floor to Fant, who then accused Trip of name-calling his co-equal members of this Council when he called the finance committee the ‘kill committee’. Fant says It is out of order and unprofessional. And reminds the Council that he and some of his Council colleagues choose to represent the people. Meadows returned the floor back to Trip where he says, “He is aghast at the hypocrisy of this committee today.”
After Councilman Joe Dill clarifies that this vote is an up and down vote on the ordinance as presented, he reminds the Council that the committee has already said they do not want to hear what the people have to say, because you voted to not let the people meet with the developer to discuss this. Dill asked the Council to not kill this and give him one good reason why he should vote against it, if so, he would gladly vote against it. Fant responded and said that he can give one reason. He asked Dill if he has checked his emails from people who live in that area and if he would ride down there and see how overgrown that area came so quickly. He continued saying that the people are opposed to the rapid growth of that area. It is all state roads, and the infrastructure is not kept up. He scolded Councilman Ballard about how they have consistently voted together for the past five years to not approve any additional development down there until infrastructure catches up.
“I am aghast at the hypocrisy of this committee today.” -
Councilman Trip tried to add his comments, but Chairman Meadows gave the floor to Councilwoman Liz Seman. She stated that she is confused and reminded the Council that the more-than-qualified Planning Department Staff and Greenville County Planning Commission both approved this ordinance. She pointed out that no speakers were speaking out against it during public comments. There is one letter sent against it. She asked what the conversation within the Planning & Development Committee was and why they voted against it. She agrees with Joe Dill who stated earlier that politics has no place in this. Seman had to overtalk Fant from interrupting by saying she has the floor. You can hear Fant say there is no politics in this, in which the Chairman stated that Seman had the floor and let her speak.
She recommended that if we are not in agreement on what to do with this ordinance then hold it and maybe even send it back to the committee for more consideration.
Before they called it to question, Trip added by asking Fant, “Do you live and represent the district where Griffin Mill Road is?” to which a loud overtalking battle began between Fant and Trip. Fant never answered the question and Chairman Meadows gaveled the floor back to order to which Councilwoman Seman requested a roll call vote on calling to the question. The vote split was the same as before where Trip, Dill, Harrison, Seman, Ballard, and Kervin voted against the call to question; and Barnes, Shaw, Meadows, Tzouvelekas, Norris, and Fant voted in favor.
“It is hypocrisy from the top down on this issue. It is about politics.” -
After the call to the question was defeated, Trip asked to speak on the motion. He expressed how appalled he was at the hypocrisy of this Council starting right at the top. He told the Chairman that you told me that you will always support the Councilman in his district regarding rezoning. He stated, “It is hypocrisy from the top down on this issue. It is about politics.” He expressed that he only asked for a simple hold so he could meet with the developers and the people of the area. He stressed again, that, “You are moving the ‘kill committee’ from the finance committee to the chair of the floor, the floor of the committee.”
After the heated comments, a vote on the motion was had and again with the same split: Trip, Dill, Harrison, Seman, Ballard, and Kervin voted Yes; with Barnes, Shaw, Meadows, Tzouvelekas, Norris, and Fant who voted No.
A few moments later another zoning ordinance was presented by Councilman Joe Dill where the previous battle resumed. This time, the ordinance was to help with the initial zoning process that is currently in place countywide. Currently, it is required that 1 square mile (640 acres) of contiguous property owners must petition for first-time zoning. They must submit a petition of names (and other property information) of at least 25% of the property owners within the boundary of the proposed zoning area. After this, and the establishment of the formal boundary, an additional requirement of 60% of property owners within this formal boundary must submit another petition to the Planning Department. According to the Planning Department staff, this process can take up to two years before the adoption of the formal boundary and zoning of the parcels.
The non-amendment proposed ordinance would drop the size of the one square mile to a half square mile which would change the acreage to 320 from 640. The proposed ordinance would also remove the percentage requirement of the initial 25% and the 60% of property owners within this boundary of the zoning area. The staff suggested that this ordinance would reduce the amount of time the process takes and will streamline the process and align it with the timeline of a typical rezoning request which is approximately three to four months.
The Planning Department staff as well as the Greenville County Planning Commission approved this request. But the Greenville County Planning & Development Committee approved it with an amendment that changed the acreage back to 640 which would be one square mile of contiguous property. They left the removal of the percentage requirements as mentioned earlier. This, as you will read later, was implied that it is now 100% by default even though not stated specifically.
So first, a motion was made by Councilman Joe Dill to submit the amendment version of the proposed ordinance that was approved by the Greenville Planning & Development Committee which only changed the size of contiguous property for initial zoning.
Councilman Ballard referred to the last time this process took place in his district where a massive 7,700 acres zoning boundary was adopted in southern Greenville County in 2018. He reminded the Council that it took two years to adopt the formal boundary and the problems that came with it. Ballard mentioned concerned citizens in his and Dill’s districts, where they have the largest amount of non-zoned property. They told their citizens that if they want better management of their land, they need to zone, and the citizens asked if County could find an easier way to do it than the way it is now.
Ballard also pointed out that the Planning Department staff are the ones that came up with this proposal and he thought it was a very good proposal without the amendment. He asked his colleagues to vote against the amendment.
After Chairman Meadows got clarification from the county lawyer about voting on the amendment, Chairman gave Councilman Harrison the floor. Harrison referred to a conversation he had with Councilman Barnes where he acknowledged that Harrison had some great points on the original proposed ordinance without that amendment. Harrison said that the original proposed ordinance was not just about reducing the acreage but increasing the final percentage of owners requesting initial zoning from 60% to 100%. So, what was getting overlooked was that when the amendment by Barnes in committee was submitted to change the acreage, there was no amendment regarding the percentage. That is when Harrison points out that if we pass the amendment, it will make it even harder for initial zoning because now the percentage is 100% required and the required acreage is back to its original size of 640 acres.
“If this is a six-to-six vote, then we are not representing the people.” -
Harrison reminds his colleagues that his district is fully zoned and that he is not biased but experienced in zoning issues and processes. He also reminded his fellow Councilmen that even though property owners will go through the initial zoning, it still comes before them for approval. This will not be a blanket zoning process if passed without the amendment. To approve this amendment would not only be a slap in the face to those property owners but also to the Planning Department staff who came up with this proposal. This would go to a complete opposite of what the original proposed ordinance’s intent was. He concluded, “If this is a six-to-six vote, then we are not representing the people.” He asked his colleagues to vote against the amendment.
Councilman Joe Dill expressed his thanks to his fellow Councilman for his words and added that zoning has been a hated word in his district for a long time. It means government intrusion. It means that somebody is going to tell me what I can and cannot do on my land. He says that for the first time, he is seeing people wanting to zone their property and this was an attempt to make that process easier. He reminds his fellow Councilmen that this is their land, not ours and not county’s. He says let’s do what we have been saying, let’s help people instead of slapping them in the face and sticking a stick in their eye. Give them what they ask for, that is to zone their property.
“Let’s help people instead of slapping them in the face and sticking a stick in their eye. Give them what they ask for, that is to zone their property.” -
Chairman Meadows called for the vote and again the same even split where the amendment failed. Trip, Dill, Harrison, Seman, Ballard, and Kervin voted No; with Barnes, Shaw, Meadows, Tzouvelekas, Norris, and Fant who voted Yes.
Now with the full ordinance on the floor, an argument broke out about why they were getting ready to vote on the ordinance as presented within the committee that was, according to Ennis Fant, never voted on but immediately amended by Barnes. Fant added, how can we vote on it out here if the committee never voted on the 320-acre version in the first place. The amended version was voted and approved in committee and now before County Council where it failed. Chairman Meadows asked for clarification from County lawyer Mark Tollison, who clarified that Council does have the power to vote on the original ordinance as submitted to the committee.
After some further clarifications, Councilman Harrison chided with his fellow Councilmen that they talk about representing the people, this is what this ordinance is all about. He also brought up again Barnes telling him he made some good points but never got back to him. He expressed to the other six that he does not understand why and wanted answers from them. To him, this is clear and should be no argument with this, especially the fact that the amendment would have been worse than what we have now. Allowing property owners who used to hate anything related to zoning, and now they want to zone is good for the county infrastructure. He again asked, “Why?” He blames the committee for taking something that the Planning Department came up with and trying to reverse it which would have made it worse.
Councilman Kervin reminded his colleagues that if this is approved, it does not create a permanent condition. It will go through the process; Council must look at it and approve it still before it is accepted. It just gives the people an opportunity to say what they would like to use their property for.
Councilman Dill referred to an article that was in a local paper where citizens from the Blue Ridge area came in and were upset about 74 houses going in on a lot where it was unzoned in his district. He continued saying, and people sit back and said if you people just zone yourself up there, you wouldn’t have this problem.
“So you all can pat yourself on the back tonight, you killed stuff tonight and you killed stuff last night ... I hope you can sleep well.” -
Dill then referred to Fant who was quoted in the paper as saying, “That northern Greenville needs to recognize that northern Greenville will no longer be Mayberry. That you have to recognize that zoning is a way to control growth and regulate what you want from your neighbors.” Dill’s point is that now they are trying to fix and allow it to be easier to zone and the same six are voting against it, including Fant.
Dill added, “If you take away people’s ability to be able to zone themselves, it is nothing but communism. You are taking away their rights.”
Again, once the Chairman put it up for a vote, the vote was evenly split like before and failed to pass. Trip, Dill, Harrison, Seman, Ballard, and Kervin voted Yes; with Barnes, Shaw, Meadows, Tzouvelekas, Norris, and Fant who voted No.
Councilman Ballard in closing remarks quoted former Councilman Fred Payne who said that you are being elected to represent the people in your district, but there are no at-large Council members, therefore, you also must represent all the people in Greenville County. Ballard expressed that those who are elected are public servants to both their people in their districts as well as all citizens of Greenville County.
He shared that each Councilman represents approximately 43,500, and not once but twice in the past few months, a major project, that affects the entire county, was killed in a committee. And 304,500 people in this county did not have a say because seven Council members never got to vote on these issues. He says it is wrong and we all should have the opportunity to vote on issues especially those issues that are countywide and have significant implications to the county.
He ended by saying, “So you all can pat yourself on the back tonight, you killed stuff tonight and you killed stuff last night ... I hope you can sleep well.”