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.
- Population element. This addresses the historic population trends, anticipated growth and demographic data.
- Economic development element. This covers the workforce, where workers live and other aspects of the local economy.
- Natural resources element. This addresses items like the area’s water bodies, parks and recreation areas, agricultural and forest land and wildlife habitats.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Transportation element. This should coordinate with the land use element to provide sufficient transportation options for existing and future land uses.
- Priority investment element. This recommends projects for the anticipated federal, state and local funds available for infrastructure and facilities in the next decade.
- 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.
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.
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