Thursday, October 27, 2022

Municipal Association Releases Updated Annexation Handbook

Annexation of properties into municipal limits is among the most frequently-discussed policy subjects in municipal government. City and town officials often have questions about the eligibility of given properties for annexation into their municipality, how to pursue and properly execute a property annexation, and even whether a proposed annexation is financially feasible. The Municipal Association of SC recently overhauled and updated its guidance document on this critical subject — the Annexation Handbook

The handbook covers the three methods of annexation available to municipalities in South Carolina: the 100% petition and ordinance method, the 75% petition and ordinance method and the 25% petition and election method. It provides checklists, includes sample petitions, and explains the other documents to be assembled when enacting an annexation.

Beyond the processes of annexation, the guide takes a look at many other key issues, including these: 
  • Defining and determining “contiguity.” Properties can be annexed only when they are contiguous to municipal limits. The SC Attorney General has determined contiguity means that a property is “adjacent to a municipality and shares a continuous border [with the municipality].” The handbook provides explanations of the nuance involved in cases where roads, railroads or waterways intervene between a property inside the municipal boundaries and one outside. 
  • Policy considerations. For every annexation, city and town councils should ask whether the annexation is in the best interest of the municipality’s current residents. Sometimes, the increased revenue of an annexation does not offset the financial burden of furnishing municipal services to the new area. Other issues include the zoning or rezoning of parcels as they are annexed, the legal issues involved in requiring annexation agreements as a condition for providing services outside the city, as well as creating tax relief or other incentives for annexation. 
  • Rules for annexing certain property types. The laws governing annexation of property owned by the municipality, the county, state or federal government, school district property, corporate property, multicounty parks and others vary. There are also specific issues to consider when annexing cemeteries or church property. 
Other resources 

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Include All the Required Elements for Comprehensive Plans

October is National Community Planning Month, and local officials can mark the occasion by asking whether their comprehensive plans are properly updated on a 10-year cycle and whether they cover all of the elements required by law. State law changed in 2020 to add “resiliency” to the list of required elements for a comprehensive plan. 

Municipalities in South Carolina do not have to implement a planning and zoning program to guide their community’s development. For those that do, state law creates a framework for doing so in the Comprehensive Planning Enabling Act, found in SC Code Title 6, Chapter 29

The law requires local governments with land use regulations to establish and operate a local planning commission. That commission must develop a comprehensive plan, specifically addressing the 10 planning elements required by law. The commission must also reevaluate the comprehensive plan every five years. Every 10 years, the commission must update the plan by passing a resolution and submitting it to the city or town council. Also every 10 years, the council must host a public hearing on the plan and adopt it by ordinance.

Municipalities can pursue the 10 comprehensive plan elements in a way that best meets their community’s needs. For each of the elements, the plan must include an inventory of the community’s existing conditions, a statement of the local government’s needs and goals, and implementation strategies that include timeframes. 

  1. Population element. This addresses the historic population trends, anticipated growth and demographic data. 
  2. Economic development element. This covers the workforce, where workers live and other aspects of the local economy. 
  3. Natural resources element. This addresses items like the area’s water bodies, parks and recreation areas, agricultural and forest land and wildlife habitats. 
  4. Cultural resources element. This describes things like historic sites, areas of the community with unique commercial, residential or natural assets, as well as religious and entertainment institutions.
  5. Community facilities element. This addresses necessary factors for development like water, sewer, solid waste, fire protection, as well as medical, governmental and educational facilities. The local government must adopt this element before adopting any subdivision or other land development regulations. 
  6. Housing element. This describes the locations, types, ages and conditions of existing housing, how much is owner-occupied or renter-occupied, and the costs and other factors affecting the development of affordable housing. 
  7. Land use element. This considers both current and future land uses, including residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural or undeveloped uses. This element is a prerequisite for adopting zoning ordinances.
  8. Transportation element. This should coordinate with the land use element to provide sufficient transportation options for existing and future land uses. 
  9. Priority investment element. This recommends projects for the anticipated federal, state and local funds available for infrastructure and facilities in the next decade. 
  10. Resiliency element. This considers the impacts of flooding, high water and natural hazards on individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, economic development, public infrastructure and facilities, and public health, safety and welfare. 

The final element listed in the law, resiliency, was a new addition in 2020. The City of Conway is an example of a city that has recently worked on its resiliency element ahead of its 2035 Comprehensive Plan. It hosted a public input meeting in September dedicated to considering the recurring issues and potential for sudden disasters such as flooding, power or communication outages, pandemics and even economic disasters. 

Planning guide 

The Comprehensive Planning Guide for Local Governments, a publication of the Municipal Association, explores the comprehensive planning process. It explains how planning commissions can develop and revise the 10 elements of the comprehensive plan, and how councils should adopt it. The handbook also explains the organizational structures and functions of planning commissions and boards of architectural review as well as the process of crafting a comprehensive plan.