The Jobs of Planning & Zoning Boards
City Council and boards get guidance on zoning.
Clinton is expecting intense residential growth in the near future. The city council has been briefed on 914 houses, townhomes, and apartments have been built, are under construction, or are in the planning phase for in and around the city. With that in mind, Planning and Zoning for now and in the future has become an interest for the council, the administration, and citizens appointed to oversight boards.
The issue was the subject of a Thursday workshop-style meeting of the Clinton City Council. In regular session, council approved certain amendments to the zoning ordinance, and then made appointments: to the Zoning Board of Appeals, Kenny Moore and Scott Taylor; and to the Planning Commission: Austin Barnes, Donna Jacobs, Valerie Gaine, Willie Prickett, Foard Talbert, Heather Tiller and Robbie Strickland.
Then, at the request of City Manager Tom Brooks, Charleston attorney and State House of Representatives member Spencer Wetmore led the workshop.
“You are now public officials,” she told the newly appointment boards members. “Your actions reflect on the city, you have excellent resources (on city staff).”
She outlined for the council and board members what kind of options they have for determining “what do I want this city to look like.”
She said the key to successful zoning is “moving slowly.” Clinton has a comprehensive plan updated in 2019 that state law requires must be updated every 5 years. That update process, she said, should start next year.
In a Home Rule state, Wetmore said, “Planning Commissions have a lot of power in making the city what you want the city to be. … You have the ability to zone and to zone property as you see fit.”
Wetmore went through specific legal requirements and responsibilities of the three Planning and Zoning board:
— the Planning Commission;
— the Board of Zoning Appeals; and
— the Design Review Board.
She called the Board of Zoning Appeals the city’s “safety valve” and added that there are on-line courses available for the public officials to continue their study of the issues. She also discussed the limitations of the U.S. Constitution and laws on the powers of these boards - the main restriction is to not be “arbitrary” in decisions, she said.
Wetmore said the major property rights case in South Carolina was decided by the State Supreme Court 25 years ago, so there is a substantial amount of decisions related to the issue.
“Follow the comprehensive plan and ordinances, and you rule - then you probably won’t run afoul of other constitutional protections,” Wetmore said. “Don’t do anything arbitrary.”
Related to zoning, communities often ask, “Who let this be built?” Wetmore discussed the “vested rights” for developers after receiving approval from a city board.
“They get a permit, they can start spending money,” Wetmore said. “You can’t just say, ‘We changed our mind.’ The developer might not break ground for two years, but they still have vested rights. …
“Zoning doesn’t have to be rigid. It has to be in writing and it has to be followed, but you have flexibility within the zoning (planned unit developments etc). Think creatively. You can identify parts of your city where you want public investments.”
NOTE: The Clinton City Council’s regular meeting dates are the first Monday of each month, 6 pm in the council chambers of the municipal center on North Broad Street. The meetings are open to the public, and live-streamed and recorded for viewing later on the City’s Facebook page.