Friday, June 24, 2016

Parks make their mark

This week’s blog post from the SC Economic Developers Association points out some positive statistics related to the economic impact of national and state parks in South Carolina. In 2014, the state’s national parks had an economic impact of $105.9 million, while the state parks brought in $26.9 million in direct revenue alone.

Hartsville's Piratesville splash pad
These economic impact numbers grow further when you add city parks into the equation. While there is no central location that measures direct economic impact of city parks and recreation programs, we know that the traditional city parks with swings and slides have given way to handicap accessible parks, water pads, sports tournaments and trails that draw tourists and residents alike. 

Quidditch tournament in Rock Hill
Sports tourism is booming in city parks all over the state. Rock Hill’s velodrome is one of the latest additions to the growing number of sports tourism venues around the state. Emerging sports like Quidditch, pickleball, disc golf and ultimate Frisbee is also bring tourists and dollars into our cities with tournaments, while traditional youth and police sports leagues continue to grow. 

Walterboro's Wildlife Sanctuary
Passive parks that offer quiet greenspace offer even more opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy the outdoor amenities in South Carolina’s cities. From Greenville’s Falls Park to Walterboro’s Wildlife Sanctuary, there is something for everyone in the city-owned parks. 

Trails in urban areas as well as trails that run between cities are becoming increasingly popular. The City of Florence has a network of trails that runs throughout city, many of which connect city parks to one another. Plus, many segments of the Palmetto Trail run through South Carolina cities and towns.

The Swamp Rabbit Trail between Greenville and Trail and the Doodle Trail linking Easley and Pickens cater to bicyclists and walkers alike. Both of these trails were built on former rail beds connecting the two cities. 

Keeping parks clean and crime-free is a goal of all city park programs, but there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes to make this happen. Many cities rely on volunteers to help keep grounds clean, coach teams or tend gardens. In Charleston, for example, “park angels” volunteer to work with and learn from the city’s horticulturalist.

While this means more opportunities for residents to be involved in city programs, it also increases the potential for injury and liability claims. City officials manage these risks through training and background checks, so that residents and visitors enjoy these opportunities while ensuring these municipal assets don’t become municipal liabilities.

At the upcoming Annual Meeting in Charleston, there will be a breakout session examining trends in public recreation.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Training is a must for planning and zoning officials

Listen to a podcast interview with Jeff Shacker, field services manager, about planning and zoning training.

Planning and zoning are two responsibilities of municipal government that the public often doesn’t see until there is a problem. Whether it’s a zoning decision a landowner disagrees with or a planning commission decision that doesn’t align with state law, controversy around planning and zoning will likely occur in just about every city at some point.

While it may be impossible to completely avoid controversy in these areas, proper training for appointed officials and staff who deal with planning and zoning is not just a good idea, it’s required by state law. 

Here’s the background….going back as far as 1924, the legislature granted local governments the authority to take on planning and zoning to manage growth and development. Local governments are not mandated to perform these duties. Each municipality must decide whether to exercise its planning authority. However, if local officials want to enact zoning regulations, they must also implement a planning program. 

All municipal planning and zoning must conform with the 1994 state South Carolina Local Government Planning Enabling Act (SC Code Title 6, Chapter 29). Plus, a 2003 amendment established mandatory training requirements for all appointees and staff involved with local planning and zoning.

The consequence for not meeting the training requirement is severe. An appointed official can be removed from office, and a professional employee can be suspended or dismissed. It could also be grounds for a legal challenge of official actions taken by a board or commission.

There are many roles in the planning and zoning process, and the Municipal Association has lots of resources for elected and appointed officials and staff who deal with these issues. The Comprehensive Planning Guide is a one-stop-shop for any questions related to planning and zoning. Also, the Association provides the required orientation and continuing education training. Plus there’s a listserv that planning and zoning staff can use to ask questions and share ideas.

Mayors and councilmembers can learn about planning and zoning from a Session A class in the Municipal Elected Officials Institute of Government. Officials attending the upcoming Annual Meeting can learn more about how to avoid the legal liability associated with planning and zoning decisions at a break-out session on Thursday, July 14.

The Association’s field services managers say they frequently get questions about the training requirements for planning and zoning officials. Get a few of them answered here and listen to a podcast interview with Jeff Shacker, one of the Association's field services managers, to learn more.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Tiny houses may cause big challenges

Are you a fan of HGTV, the home and garden network? It’s recently become home to four programs all showing off the new trend in housing – small spaces. These shows sell the fun and functional lifestyle of living in a home as small as 100 square feet.

Coming on the heels of the huge home McMansion trend of the past 10 years, these accessory dwelling units, often called granny pads or tiny houses, are becoming increasingly popular for people looking to downsize, make money or house relatives.

As fun as the idea sounds, these small living spaces bring up big questions related to regulation and safety for local governments.

South Carolina cities are beginning to grapple with these questions as the trend moves from the tourism-based or larger communities to cities of all sizes. From considering parking regulations to discussing density concerns, city officials are talking about all the implications of this new trend.

Get a preview of a July Uptown article on this topic here.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Telling great stories of SC cities and towns

By Reba Campbell, deputy executive director

Part of what we do at the Municipal Association is tell the stories about the great things going on in cities of all sizes around the state. Among the many ways we share these stories is through our monthly Uptown newsletter. It’s 16 pages chock full of feature stories, best practices, kudos and training topics of interest to elected officials and city staff. 

Often we learn about these success stories from reading local newspapers. So, it was really nice this week when we could turn the tables when a local newspaper used Uptown as the source for a column. 

The Greenwood Index Journal ran an editorial praising the Greenwood County cities for several important economic development successes. Two articles that were in the May issue of Uptown prompted the editorial. It’s nice to see Uptown’s reach go beyond our audience of municipal officials!

Uptown has been around since 1975 and was preceded by SC City that launched in 1959. It’s gone from a simple typeset black-and-white publication to a full-color professionally written and designed newsletter that is painstakingly and strategically planned and published 11 times annually. It is mailed to more than 4,000 municipal officials, legislators and news media the first week of each month. Or…if you’d rather have it delivered online, we do that too.

Many of you know Uptown’s long-time editor, Mary Brantner, retired at the end of May after serving in this role for 28 years. She was the meticulous editor, talented writer, master planner, thorough researcher and patient cat herder who kept the process of planning, writing, editing and distributing Uptown on time and on budget. Over the years, she worked on more than 300 issues that included somewhere near 7,000 articles. That’s a lot of words! 

We congratulate Mary on her well-deserved retirement, and welcome to our staff Sarita Chourey, who has taken over as editor of Uptown. Sarita has a journalism background having served as the bureau chief and State House reporter/blogger for several South Carolina newspapers. She covered city issues for many years and will bring a unique perspective to our content going forward.

Often the best Uptown story ideas are those we get from local officials,so please share your successes with Sarita! We particularly like to include articles in Uptown about projects, programs and services in cities that meet a universal challenge or that can be duplicated in other cities.

The June Uptown should have already arrived in your mailbox. Or you can read it online now here. If you’d like to get the e-version in addition to, or in place of, the paper version, just go to your member home page from the Municipal Association website and change your subscription options in the top right corner of the page.

Happy reading!