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Developers are flocking into Greenwood, seeking to fill undeveloped land throughout the county with new housing.
Last year saw significant residential development in a county that has been struggling to get new housing built. Early in 2022, the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce hosted a housing summit to seek new ways to expand the county’s housing inventory.
The summit set a tone for the year, as local officials sought new ways to incentivize and facilitate development. Greenwood City Council modified one of its zoning categories to grant developers more flexibility while holding them to a written plan for new developments.
Greenwood County’s former planning director, Phil Lindler, retired last year, and former planning employee Carol Coleman rejoined the county as the new director. With years of experience on the coast running the Myrtle Beach planning department, Coleman sees a new burst of development coming to Greenwood — one that officials are eager to keep a hand on so the community doesn’t lose its character.
“What we’re seeing is kind of the next phase or next level,” Coleman said. “We saw a lot of development around the lake, with people wanting to retire here.”
From retirees headed to the lake in previous years, now developers are seeking to set up neighborhoods with smaller lots, closer to central shopping areas. These new planned homes and apartments cater to people wanting to downsize and deal with less property and upkeep.
“These are often retirees too, and they don’t want as much to be responsible for,” Coleman said.
About a dozen developments have crossed the planning commission’s desk in 2022, representing hundreds of homes and apartments. The year was an outlier, given the difficulty area leaders have faced in getting developers’ attention.
“Since the major recession and the real estate crash in ‘09, there hasn’t really been major residential construction in Greenwood,” City Council member Niki Hutto said.
Greenwood has been growing economically, with industries and jobs coming into the area. Unfortunately, Hutto said the employees filling those jobs are commuting from Fountain inn, Simpsonville and Greenville.
“Why are we losing the workforce,” Hutto asked. “They told us we didn’t have housing options.”
Housing promotes population growth, Hutto said, which will then attract the businesses residents often ask for, such as a Target or Olive Garden. In the drive to get a variety of housing types at different lot sizes and price points, Hutto said council also has to stay aware of where development is happening. The city doesn’t want to leave some areas neglected compared to others.
Another challenge, City Council member Betty Boles said, is ensuring the people who live beside new developments are informed about and comfortable with the new construction.
“I’m always conscious of how new developments will affect the residents of the city,” Boles said. “We’ve had growth in the past, but never this much at one time.”
In fall 2022, city council approved changes to the city’s Master Planned Residential Zoning district in the hopes of addressing this. The MPR zoning is an option developers can seek when requesting a property rezoning that offers them flexibility not afforded under traditional zoning options.
In exchange, developers have to provide the city with a site plan and development narrative laying out details about the planned construction. MPR zoning lets the city hold the developer to this plan, ensuring that the public knows what to expect from the new construction.
“With the MPR, we’re basically saying whoever you’re developing this property for, the builder, needs to uphold this plan,” Hutto said.
Greenwood County is now poised to make some changes to how development is approved.
At Tuesday’s county council meeting, officials had first reading on an ordinance that would give planning staff the authority to give preliminary and final plat approval to major subdivisions. Currently, the planning commission makes those decisions, but Coleman said planning staff does most of the work of reviewing plats and giving their recommendations to the commission.
“We lean on or listen to the planning commission,” County Council Chairperson Chuck Moates said. “When the planning commission does their work properly and thoroughly, they recommend the project either up or down.”
Moates said he’s heard from real estate agents for years that Greenwood lacks the housing inventory to meet demand.
“I continue to think Greenwood is a prime location for business, and because of that, for people coming to work,” he said. “We’re ready to do what we can to attract business, housing development and the amenities that add to people’s quality of life.”