Regional Tool Kit: FAQ

1. What does local planning do?

  • Promotes the public health, safety, and welfare of all citizens.
  • It is by state law, LOCAL.  Only cities and counties in South Carolina can adopt and enforce planning, land development zoning or design ordinances.  While these ordinances are written to conform to state enabling laws, local governments determine the specifics of these laws.
  • Prevents incompatible land uses.  Think of anything that you would not want beside your neighborhood; car repair shop, landfill, cement mixing facility, big truck businesses, gas station, etc. 
  • Promotes safe and efficient transportation options for motorists, transit passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians. 
  • Minimizes land-use effects on water quality and helps ensure development does not outpace water supply and other services. 
  • Develops implementation plans outlining how the region will meet air quality standards by reducing air pollutant emissions.
  • Prevents development in hazard areas (floodplains, steep slopes) and environmentally sensitive lands.
  • Coordinates with businesses and invests in sound economic development projects so citizens may have gainful employment opportunities
  • Enhances quality of life factors (affordable housing, transportation, public safety, parks & rec.)
  • Increases disadvantaged populations’ access to jobs and public resources.
  • Revitalizes blighted areas and maintains cultural facilities that residents value.
  • Home and store addressing systems so that response teams can respond to emergency calls and we can generally find addresses efficiently. 

2.  What are the benefits of planning?


  • Efficient use of tax dollars by coordinating location of public services.  Guide incentives so existing infrastructure may be fully utilized and new infrastructure may be as efficient as possible.  Distance between housing units determines the length and complexity of water and sewer distribution and collection mains, which translate directly into cost.  (Burchell, 58)  Road costs for sprawling development were found to be as much as 25% higher than in compact neighborhoods, due to more lane miles needed for roads. (Burchell, 59) 
  • Reduce hours spent in congestion.  Texas Transportation Institute found that traffic congestion costs the nation 5.7 billion gallons of wasted fuel and 3.5 billion hours of lost productivity in 2001.  This equates to a total cost to the nation of $69.5 billion.  (Burchell, 95)   On average, each Atlanta resident spends 43 hours per year in traffic, and each Charlotte resident spends 25 hours per year in traffic.  (
  • Increases percent of population with access to services and quality of life factors
  • Provides certainty to property owners, which protects private property and oftentimes preserves and enhances its value.
  • Maintains appropriate air and water quality levels.  Keeping areas in "attainment" (meeting) with the ground-level ozone standards means that we will continue to receive Federal transportation funding.


  • Create communities of lasting value.  Desirable neighborhoods, streets, and public places that will be valued by residents now and far into the future. 
  • Maintain cultural resources and public places of community that have social value. 
  • In sprawl developments neighbors are isolated from one another due to a heavy reliance on automobile travel.  In addition, long commutes reduce the amount of time people have for social interaction with their own family, much less with other community members. 
  • Relies on meaningful public participation for communities to preserve things they value, and channel new growth to areas where it is most desirable.  Planning and zoning commissions are made of local residents that reflect the interest of the community.  Plans, zoning, and capital improvement programs will reflect the values of the community, so tax money is spent on the top priorities of the community members.
  • Enhances quality of life factors: less congestion, affordable housing, sense of community, aesthetic buildings, access to open space and recreation. 

3.  What could happen to our region if we do not coordinate planning efforts?

  • Higher cost of roads, utilities, and services.  When infrastructure and public services are not coordinated, invariably some of this public investment will be under-utilized.  Imagine an extreme case where utility infrastructure is built on the north side of town, a new high school on the east, water and sewer on the south, and a road widening project on the west.  As major city investments the expanse and distance between projects will not fully support new development and the overall benefit of residents. 
  • Loss of attractive places (forests, open space, historic sites and buildings)
  • If development continues to sprawl outwards, residents will have longer commutes, creating more traffic in urban corridors.
  • By driving more there will be more regional air pollution
  • Water quality is at risk from storm-water pollution associated with increased area of impervious surfaces
  • As fuel costs rise, many low and middle class residents in a predominately auto dependent region must make sacrifices regarding transportation choices.

Unattractive, low quality development will make the Upstate unrecognizable from Anyplace, USA.

4.  How does planning protect my property rights and values?

  • Prohibits objectionable, incompatible land uses from developing near your property.
  • Universal trust that property will continue to have access to water, sewer, and roads which maintain the value of property.
  • Requires Due Process.  Local government must follow legal steps before it may enact changes that would harm property values.
  • As communities become more desirable property values will rise.

5. How do local planning actions affect land values and uses?

  • Stabilizes the value of land through residential, commercial and industrial zoning categorizations for preservation of the present and future use of land
  • As a regulatory and anticipatory process, planning influences the pace, character and trend of the development market
  • Location and timing of infrastructure and community facilities guide the market
  • Balances development and supporting infrastructure decisions such as water, sewer, roads, school, emergency and municipal services
  • Land regulations determine the general nature and type of housing and the cost of land through zoning, building guidelines, and lot sizes.

Zoning regulations can affect desired outcomes of land use types and intensities:


6. Does planning use market incentives in their regulations?

  • Zoning sets the stage for local development markets
  • The Priority Investment Act of 2007 is critical in providing local government with new zoning tools that encourage better planning and intergovernmental coordination of public infrastructure decisions that in turn encourage development of affordable housing and traditional neighborhood design.

  • Yes, the tools outlined in the priority investment act, in addition to the comprehensive plan and Capital Improvements Programs, provide incentive frameworks for developers. The following tools can be considered market incentives:
  • Fast Track Permitting: Giving priority and simplifying the permitting process for a development project, particularly if it has an element of affordable housing or would greatly benefit the community, in order to reduce time costs associated with real estate development
  • Design Flexibility: Providing preapproved design standards that, if followed by developers, allow for greater design flexibility and easier permitting and plan approval. Particularly applicable to mixed use and infill development.
  • Waived or Reduction of Fees: Provided the developer allocates a certified public benefit such as affordable housing, the municipality may waive or reduce impact and permit fees imposed on new development.
  • Density Bonus: Provided a developer allocates a certified public benefit, financial assets, or preserves historic or environmental resources, the municipality may permit the developer to build at a higher density than approved zoning allows.
  • Zoning Relaxation: permitting a relaxation of minimum height, size, bulk and lot area requirements, landscape, parking, street standards, and density limitations for a particular parcel in order to encourage development.

South Carolina Priority Investment Act:

7. Who is making the planning decisions in my community?

  • City Council (elected)
  • Makes all governing decisions
  • Establishes the Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals and Board of Architectural Review.
  • Provides funding for staff needs.
  • Reviews & Adopts Comprehensive Plan, development ordinances including land use regulations and zoning, and other programs.
  • May hold public hearings.
  • Planning Commission (appointed)
  • Authorized and created by the local governing body (municipal or county council) and serves as a citizen advisory group to council on planning related matters, including promoting a continuing and future-oriented planning program.
  • Prepares and reviews planning staff plans and studies
  • Recommends zoning map or ordinance changes (i.e. re-zoning) to the municipal council
  • Recommends plans and ordinances to the municipal council
  • Recommends a priority investment or capital improvements program
  • Reviews and approves subdivision plats and land development
  • Board of Zoning Appeals (appointed)
  • A quasi-judicial board appointed by local governing body to oversee variances, special exceptions, and appeals of planning staff decisions regarding zoning
  • Variances: a quasi-judicial process where existing land use creates an unusual hardship with current zoning ordinance, and Findings of Fact permit an exception so long as not detrimental to adjacent use
  • Provides list of non-conforming uses that are permitted after special review
  • Hears appeals of staff for errors in requirements or decisions and questions of interpretation
  • No involvement in re-zoning
  • Design Review Board (appointed)
  • A board appointed by local governing to oversee enforcement of ordinances related to design guidelines and design review processes

8. How can I become involved in my community’s planning process?

  • Become involved in neighborhood associations
  • Attend public hearings regarding development issues
  • Participate in local surveys and elections
  • Become educated on current planning issues within your community
  • Volunteer for board opportunities

Municipal Association of South Carolina Publications

9. What I am able to do with my land, isn’t this a violation of my private property rights?

  • Zoning is enacted as a local legislative process, encouraging public input and includes an appeals process
  • Considers and balances the general public’s health and safety with individual property decisions
  • Is consistent with the comprehensive plan, a community supported document based off existing and future growth and land use patterns
  • Zoning ensures the protection of your property from undesirable adjacent land uses
  • Protects a citizens property and fourteenth amendment rights to due process as well as fifth amendment property rights and taking concerns

10. Is sustainable development an anti-growth policy?

  • TATT sustainable development definition:
  • Sustainability reflects the balance between the efficient use of resources, the actions of individuals and organizations and the economic, social, and environmental impacts they have on the long term quality of life in the region.
  • The Ten at the Top Sustainability Task force defines three growth principles for the Upstate of South Carolina:
  • Creating a culture that values living and growing in a sustainable manner
  • Implementing reasonable approaches to land use planning and development that support orderly and sustainable growth that is innovative, attractive, and fits the landscape of the community
  • Maintaining roads and other transportation enhancements such as bike paths, walkability, and public transit that make it easier for all residents to travel across the region for work and play
  • Efficient use of resources means that public costs for services are reduced and local taxing more efficiently controlled and utilized. 

Example: The Fiscal Impact of Sprawl by Brad Wyche (Originally Published in Business and Economic Review, May 2007).

11. Why is our current development pattern less than optimal? Most Upstate jurisdictions plan and use zoning and land development regulations.

Enabling legislation permits a wide range of zoning tools to be used in South Carolina. While many places within the Upstate do not utilize the full extent of these tools, applying a diverse array of these tools within a particular municipal context will promote more efficient use of resources, manage growth more effectively, and promote future economic growth. In addition to the planning tools used in your community, an application of the above tools to a community’s toolbox will provide a more effective framework for promoting the health, safety, community values, and general welfare of your community.