Skip to comments.'Smart-growth' plan riles black farmers
Posted on 11/02/2002 10:38:26 PM PST by farmfriend
'Smart-growth' plan riles black farmers By John Berlau
A property-rights case in South Carolina pits urban planning against long-time farm interests.
Like many property-rights advocates throughout the nation, South Carolina landowner Joe Neal has some choice words for his county's new "smart-growth" plan that may put his farmland off-limits to development in the name of helping the environment and fighting suburban sprawl. "It's robbery!" the hearty 51-year-old native South Carolinian exclaims, arguing his family tended the land for generations and deserves whatever the market will bear should they decide to sell some of their 92 acres just outside the capital city of Columbia. Neal calls the so-called smart-growth plan "a taking" that "restricts landowners from creating wealth."
When the establishment media hear this type of complaint they usually castigate people who make comments such as Neal's for "standing in the way of environmental progress" and portray them as "angry white males" or Republicans. But in Neal's case, this might be hard to do. For he happens to be a black Baptist minister, a Democratic state representative and chairman of South Carolina's Legislative Black Caucus. The land that has been in his family for so long is land that was purchased from a plantation owner by his great-grandfather shortly after he was freed from slavery.
"Smart growth" encompasses a series of land-use restrictions pushed by environmental groups, urban planners and politicians to halt the spread of the suburbs into the countryside. But, in South Carolina, Neal isn't the only prominent black leader concerned that environmentalist schemes to limit growth inevitably will put the brakes on black prosperity. The proliferation of smart-growth plans throughout the Palmetto State has pitted the state chapter of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and a local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter against the South Carolina Sierra Club and other state environmental groups. It also has created a rift between many black Democrats and Democratic Party leaders who have pushed the environmentalist agenda--a rift that may play a role in what appears to be a tight race for governor between incumbent Democrat Jim Hodges and Republican former congressman Mark Sanford.
"This is going to deprive people of economic wealth," said Lawrence Moore, president of the state's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition chapter. "The owners of the property, folks that tended this land, are losing out on the profit from that land. All it is a transfer of ownership [to the government]. Government shouldn't be in the land business," said Hattie Fruster, president of a local chapter of the NAACP. "The Sierra Club is trying to get land away from blacks in order for them to have rural vacation spots."
Neal, Moore and Fruster live in a predominantly black farming community in Richland County called Lower Richland. Southeast of Columbia, the area is home to many families that have owned their property for more than 100 years and are descendants of slaves and sharecroppers who in hard times and at terrible cost scraped up money to buy it.
In the 1860s, after he was freed from slavery, Neal's great-grandfather bought 75 acres of wooded land from a large plantation. Through the generations, the Neals turned the acres into fertile farmland, harvesting corn, cotton and (currently) trees. Neal's parents spent 7 years building the two-story home where his mother, LaVerne, still lives, and saved up enough money to buy more acres of adjoining land.
LaVerne Neal, 72, recalls that there were many struggles during segregation, but at least the land she and her late husband owned was secure. "All during the time when we were fighting for civil rights, nobody messed with our land," she said. "If I could pay my taxes, I didn't have to worry about my land."
But now Neal, her son and other landowners are worried that Richland County's "2020 Town and Country Vision" plan will threaten their property rights in the name of the environment in a way that even segregationist politicians never dared. "The Sierra Club is now a chapter of the KKK," said Lower Richland landowner Richard Jackson. The plan, adopted by the Democrat-controlled Richland County Council, designates almost all of the county's prime farmland, mature-forest land and land near water as "preservation areas" that can't be developed. To keep the growing metropolitan area of Columbia from spreading out farther into the country, it directs growth toward high-density "villages" that mix homes, schools and businesses, reflecting the "New Urbanism" style of neighborhoods now popular with many city planners.
Kit Smith, the Democratic county councilwoman and its former chairwoman who spearheaded the plan, told Investor's Business Daily that it aims to curb "the leapfrog development ... that skips over land and goes into another ring." Under the plan, she said, planners will ask, "parcel by parcel ... how does it fit into the overall picture of the community?"
The plan has received national praise, as politically correct plans tend to. Architect Andres Duany, who popularized the New Urbanist style, told the Columbia, S.C.-daily The State, "You have a first-rate county plan." In the Clinton-Gore years, Smith was appointed to the Environmental Protection Agency's Local Government Advisory Committee. And the National Association of Counties gave Richland County an award.
But many of the Lower Richland natives think the plan will cheat them out of all their families have worked for. "What little land we now have represents wealth and potential wealth," said Joe Neal. "When you take that from us, when you take wealth and potential wealth from these people, then you've robbed them of everything that they've slaved and labored for all those years, which is the promise that somewhere down the road, this property might produce wealth. State and county governments are pursuing conservation and antisprawl at the cost of this minority population who historically has been denied the opportunity to accumulate wealth and who reaches a point where, now, all that they've worked for is being devalued and they're being denied another opportunity to have wealth."
Dell Isham, director of the South Carolina Sierra Club, says that's just tough; no investment is guaranteed to go up in value. "As all of us who have 401(k)s certainly know, there are no guarantees on your investments," Isham said. "So why should one type of investment be guaranteed and another not?" Isham had told Investor's Business Daily in 2000 that "true farmers" should benefit from the plan. "For the true farmer, it's good; if it's the person who wants to develop and subdivide their land, it's not to their advantage," Isham said.
And even if Lower Richland residents decide to stay in farming, the smart-growth plan still could hit them hard, notes Gregory Cunningham, pastor of the mostly black New Light Beulah Baptist Church in Lower Richland. Since banks look at the most valuable uses of land should they have to foreclose, putting farmland off-limits to development reduces farmers' borrowing power. Also, the plan says it will keep land from being subdivided by "downzon[ing]" the land to require large lot sizes for a house to be built on. The plan doesn't specify a number, but communities with smart-growth plans have put limits as high as one house per 40 acres.
Cunningham notes that some members of his church subdivide land not for development but so that their children can have their own homes on the family land. The Neals, for instance, have six houses for family members on their land, including a trailer that Joe Neal's brother, G.B. Neal, temporarily lives in while his house is being built on the property. "We've got families whose sons and daughters have been educated, and one of their long-range goals is to come back to Lower Richland prior to retirement and build homes," Cunningham said. "With the present plan, as I see it now, it's going to limit how much you can build on a parcel of land." Cunningham also is worried that the church won't be able to expand because the 18 acres of undeveloped land it owns may now be considered "green space."
But Neal, Cunningham and others are not encouraged when they look at what is happening with plans in other counties. In Charleston County, landowner Gene Cribb was forced to spend several years and more than $50,000 complying with various regulations to get permission to give his daughter one-and-a-half acres of his 40-acre farm for her to live on. In Beaufort County, which includes the resort town of Hilton Head, landowners must conduct a survey of every tree on the land (in a woodland area, there can be hundreds of trees) for permission to subdivide.
Counties derived their authority to pass smart-growth plans from a state law passed in 1994 called the Local Government Comprehensive Planning Enabling Act, which required counties with zoning codes to enact comprehensive plans to guide future growth and development. The cosponsor of the bill was a Democratic state representative named Jim Hodges - who now is the state's governor.
Reprinted with permission of Insight. Copyright 2002 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
I'm really sorry to see this happening in so many other places.
That Environmental Laws May Serve the Laws of Nature
Quotes I'd like to see as headlines.
Dell Isham, director of the South Carolina Sierra Club, says that's just tough; no investment is guaranteed to go up in value. "As all of us who have 401(k)s certainly know, there are no guarantees on your investments," Isham said. "So why should one type of investment be guaranteed and another not?"
A question that the reporter should have followed up on. Something like," Explain how the risk of investing in the stock market is the same as the risk that the government will devalue a persons land through regulation...aren't you confusing risk with theft?
We were looking for a little plot of land (5 acres). We found 5 acres with a beautiful home on a river that, also, had another home close by on the same property. My daughter and son-in-law were both in school, and I babysat a lot, so this would be perfect for us...right? Not so fast, said the tax assessor's office. That property is zoned agricultural, and there is only one dwelling allowed on it. They actually have employees who look for these properties, and they cut the electricity to the second dwelling off.
What this boils down to is that with "smart growth", if it is zoned "agricultural" you have to have some farm animals or crops. Since it was zoned to have one dwelling, we could not have another home.
We, then, looked into buying a parcel that had no home, yet. We found that one has to "work" the land, making $80,000 per year, for 3 years or for 3 of 5 years. It doesn't matter if it's 5 acres, or 50 acres. That is the requirement for being allowed to build a house. And, if one had thoughts of complying with these laws, building the house, and then quit working the land, better think again. There was a person that fulfilled the requirements, built his 1.5 million $ house, and quit using the land the way the government wanted him to use it. They threatened to take his home away. Needless to say, he now works his land.
It took us 5 1/2 years to find a one acre lot that was zoned "residential" (that means we can actually live here and not grow crops or have chickens). Across the street form us is zoned agricultural, minimum of 20 acres. On down the way it's zoned agricultural, minimum of 80 acres. This is land that won't be developed in my lifetime. I'm not complaining because our view is beautiful. But, if these land owners wanted to break of a 5 acre parcel to sell, or give to a family member, the government won't allow it.
It makes property so expensive. Inside the Urban Growth Boundary (where builders can develop land for residential and commercial use) the average residential lot for a new home was 6500 square feet 3 years ago! It's smaller than that now. And, as the size of the lot went down, the price went through the roof!
There is a small develoment of 6 1 to 1.2 acre lots up the hill from me...
the price for these lots start at $399,000.
It is, also, one of the last parcels that will be allowed to break up into sizeable lots.
I am sorry for rambling on and on but this has to be stopped!
This is not good for America or Americans.
I totally agree with that.
Most of Oregon is rural. Half of the state's population is concentrated in the Portland Metro area. Also, I think one form of government or other (local, state, or federal) owns approximately 70% of the land in Oregon. I see no reason why a farmer, who has 5 acres that is not suitable for farming, can't develope that bit of land for residential or commercial use. As things stand now, he can't.
I sincerely hope for better things in South Carolina.
Do the right thing.
Coming soon: Tha SYNDICATE.