Tempers flare over 2030 plan

COUNTY — Residents of Pickens County were fired up at Monday night’s regularly scheduled county council meeting following the public meeting with the Pickens County legislative delegation held on January 31.
At the Pickens County legislative delegation meeting, Senator Larry Martin pointed to language in SC Code Title 6, Chapter 29 — specifically the word “may” — which many audience members interpreted to mean that the South Carolina Local Government Comprehensive Planning Enabling Act of 1994 does not require South Carolina counties to create comprehensive plans.
Operating under the premise that the creation of Pickens County’s comprehensive plan was an option council members elected to choose, as opposed to a mandate they were required to follow, members of the Conservatives of the Upstate group lined up to voice their vehement objections to the document still in the draft stage.
David Merck, a vocal opponent to the comprehensive plan, described it as an “Orwellian Nightmare” that will restrict the rights and liberties of Pickens County residents.
“There is a vast difference between may or must — between voluntary and mandatory,” he said. “Voluntary is when you choose to put your head in the guillotine; mandatory is ‘Big Brother’ putting your head in the guillotine.”
Pickens County resident Junius Smith, a regular speaker during the council’s public forum, said “It is not so much planning that is the problem. Nothing is wrong with planning.”
Smith’s concern is that the words Free Enterprise, Profit and Capitalistic appear nowhere in the more than 100-page document and that sustainable development is a governmental code word for socialism.
Outspoken challengers of the Comprehensive Plan have been vocalizing their concerns before council members for months, with a general consensus that the plan will deprive property owners of their rights, that bike and equestrian trails will force residents to relinquish their automobiles, and that the government will confine residents to “stack ‘em, pack ‘em” housing developments.
The “2030 Pickens County: A Comprehensive Plan” document, available to the public in its entirety on Pickens County’s website, is designed to serve as a framework that focuses on population, economic development, housing, transportation and land use, in anticipation of the county’s future growth.
“As a county that will continue to experience growth over the next 20 years, Pickens County can anticipate many challenges to its character and quality of life. These challenges will strain natural resources and physical infrastructure, making citizen driven planning an essential public function….The Pickens County Comprehensive Plan has been drafted by its citizens and for its citizens as a policy guide for their future.”
Vice President of Conservatives of the Upstate, Jonell Raines, maintains that the Comprehensive Plan contains a lie because it does not reflect the consensus of the 75.16 percent of straight-ticket Republican voters in Pickens County. She quoted the acknowledgement section of the document which thanks “neighbors (Oconee, Anderson, Greenville and Transylvania Counties) who came and shared their thoughts and ideas.”
Jennifer Willis, chairwoman of Pickens County Council, defended council members and explained that because of certain ordinances already in place in the county, council had to comply with South Carolina Local Government Comprehensive Planning Enabling Act of 1994.
“We do hear you,” she said. “If the law changes, this thing will go away. Right now 45 out of the 46 counties in South Carolina are required to comply.”
Knowing that the Comprehensive Plan has spurred such heated debate among residents in Pickens County, one man at the meeting questioned why council members were not present at the legislative delegation meeting held on January 31.
“The illustrious Senator Martin threw us under the bus,” said former Council Chair G. Neil Smith. “Most of us were sick and tired of hearing the crap.”
Comprehensive Plan opponents are advocating having South Carolina Local Government Comprehensive Planning Enabling Act of 1994 repealed. Until this happens, however, debate over property rights, bike paths and socialist government conspiracy theories will continue to be debated.