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Scenic Corridors and Open Space

Lexington County, South Carolina

Scenic Corridors and Open Space Lexington County, South Carolina

Contact Information: Charlie Compton, FAICP Director of Planning and GIS 212 South Lake Drive, Suite 302 Lexington, South Carolina 29072 Telephone: 803.785.1454 E-mail: ccompton@lex-co.com

Links: Lexington County Landscape and Open Space Ordinance


http://www.lex-co.com/Departments/CommunityDevelopment/Documents/13JAN2010LOSOrd.pdf

Lexington County Zoning Ordinance


http://www.lex-co.com/Departments/CommunityDevelopment/Documents/24FEB2010.pdf

Table of Contents
1. Abstract of the Program ............................................................................................................. 2 2. The Problem/Need for the Program .......................................................................................... 2 3. Description of the Program ........................................................................................................ 3 4. Use of Technology ...................................................................................................................... 5 5. The Cost of the Program ............................................................................................................ 6 6. The Results/Success of the Program .......................................................................................... 6 7. Worthiness of the Program ........................................................................................................ 7

Scenic Corridors and Open Space Lexington County, South Carolina

1. Abstract of the Program


Prior to January 12, 2010, the Lexington County Landscape Ordinance only covered the developing urban/suburban portion of the County. With that final third reading vote one of the most comprehensive aesthetic projects in the history of the County was completed. It successfully addressed the preservation of trees in residential subdivisions through mandated open space, the business failure of golf courses serving as an amenity to residential development, the creation of 254 miles of Scenic Corridors, the compatibility of sign regulations when property is annexed by a municipality, the responsible and aesthetic use of digital technology in signs, and the expansion of the Landscape Ordinance countywide. However, the most important aspect of the entire project is the flexibility of both the Zoning Ordinance and the newly named Landscape and Open Space Ordinance that allows Lexington County to personalize the implementation of these restrictions to fit the geography, vegetation, personality, and character of the wide variety of regions in our 755square-mile county. This is done by selecting the specific aspects of both ordinances that will apply in each area and designating Scenic Corridors from three very different options.

2. The Problem/Need for the Program


Several initiatives by the Lexington County Council incredibly came together in 2007 and presented an excellent opportunity to comprehensively address scenic corridors, open space, landscaping, and the aesthetics of commercial signage. The various problems and needs and their impact on the Program are as follows: Preservation of trees in residential subdivisions The original implementation of the Lexington County Landscape Ordinance on January 1, 2001, addressed the requirements for trees as a part of all non-residential development, including multi-family residential projects; but did not address trees as a part of single-family residential development. Business failure of golf courses serving as an amenity to residential development One of the seven golf courses in the County failed leaving home-owners along the fairways concerned as to the ultimate use of the land behind their homes. Another company eventually redeveloped the golf course, but this incident prompted the exploration of the role of the County in controlling future land uses if such a golf course does not successfully return as a business. Implementation process for Scenic Corridors The original implementation of the Lexington County Landscape Ordinance did include provisions for the creation of Scenic

Scenic Corridors and Open Space Lexington County, South Carolina

Corridors with several possible candidates. However, the process of adopting such corridors one at a time was not very appealing when a comprehensive approach seemed much more inviting. Compatibility of sign regulations when property is annexed by a municipality As commercially-developed property is annexed into any of our fifteen municipalities, the owners were often confronted with different rules governing signage, especially with respect to non-conformity requirements. Addressing the responsible use of digital technology in signs Business signs had begun to aggressively embrace digital technology without regard to the effect on aesthetics of our commercial corridors. Expansion of the Landscape Ordinance county-wide The original implementation of the Lexington County Landscape Ordinance, only covered the most urban/suburban portion of the County. Therefore the more rural areas would not benefit from any new initiatives.

3. Description of the Program


The staff approached possible solutions to the issues above by proposing comprehensive changes to two existing ordinances. Comprehensive changes to the existing Landscape Ordinance were considered first, followed closely by major text amendments to the chapter on signs in the Zoning Ordinance. The Landscape Ordinance changes took many months of hard work by the staff and the County Planning Commission. In order to have an opportunity to preserve trees in new developments we started with a program that insures the trees will be there to save when the development plan is being created. Historically timber-harvesting has been treated as other agricultural activities in Lexington County with as little regulatory involvement as possible since they both are important business practices that can only occur where the land and resources are available. However, to insure that certain trees are saved when development occurs and to insure that County water quality initiatives are not compromised, the staff needed to be involved in some sort of plan review or permitting up front with timber-harvesting. Permitting of timbering as a purely agricultural activity (when reclamation for a later harvest is the plan) involved little more than insuring that there is buffering or filtering of the stormwater runoff. If development of the property is the proposed activity, then timbering can occur only after those plans are developed and approved.

Scenic Corridors and Open Space Lexington County, South Carolina

Saving trophy trees is difficult when re-contouring of the land is needed for development of the property. This is especially true when the trophy trees lose the protection of the forest. Residential subdivisions, unlike commercial development, offer additional challenges because the plan is to create lots, each individually owned. Even though there are opportunities for saving trophy trees in residential subdivisions, the County felt these plans should not be contingent upon landscape review of individual house permits, nor should we get involved in a homeowners decision to keep or remove individual trees for aesthetic or safety reasons. Instead, we felt our efforts should be aimed at insuring that a certain amount of open space finds its way into every development. Such open space can be used for more effectively saving clusters of trees, especially where there are trophy trees involved. But it could also be used in conjunction with essential floodway and stream flow protection, as well as extremely beneficial water quality filtering best exemplified through low impact development (LID) techniques. The best part of such a plan was the opportunity to have this open space serve multiple purposes wherever possible water quality, water quantity, and tree preservation. The aesthetic benefit simply arrived along with these worthy objectives. The County Council also felt this was an excellent time to analyze the benefits of the eightyear history of the Landscape Ordinance, which resulted in a decision to expand the coverage county-wide. This Ordinance had received much national and state-wide recognition for its flexibility in that regard. To expand the options for saving trophy trees and creating a more subdued and vegetative feel for many of the County roadways, two additional categories of Scenic Corridors were created. With three such categories the County was able to include many more miles into this program which involved the preservation of additional road frontage open space, the preservation of more natural vegetation, the planting of more new trees than is normally required, and the advancement of the compatibility of signage in size, color, and appearance. Over six months were spent identifying and mapping potential candidates for the three categories of Scenic Corridors. The issue of golf course abandonment was handled through a creative requirement for designated open space where existing residential lots were involved, but allowing redevelopment of the property where homes were not planned. As a part of the Countys comprehensive update of its Stormwater Ordinance a couple years ago, a stakeholders group was created consisting of developers, contractors,
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Scenic Corridors and Open Space Lexington County, South Carolina

engineers, Council representatives, environmental groups, and local utility representatives. This group was also invited to review the new landscape regulations and gave the project a robust endorsement. Once the Landscape Ordinance changes were completed, amendments to the Sign Chapter of the Zoning Ordinance were drafted. The local billboard companies were involved in the creation of a number of changes that make advertising signs more compatible with the roadway on which they are located including an expanded prohibition of billboards on all Scenic Corridors. The expertise of these companies with digital technology was instrumental in creating a way to eliminate animation and brightness with all digital signs, including on-site business signs as well as off-site advertising signs. Restrictions for business signs on scenic corridors were also drafted that greatly reduced size, height, lighting, and even regulated colors. When all of the text changes to the sign section of the Zoning Ordinance were finalized, those amendments were adopted simultaneously with the changes to the newly named Landscape and Open Space Ordinance. At final adoption the County Council designated 254 miles of roads in Lexington County as Scenic Corridors (24 miles as Scenic Corridor 1s, 125 miles as Scenic Corridor 2s, and 104 miles as Scenic Corridor 3s).

4. Use of Technology
When Lexington County proposes to amend ordinances in a way that will have a visual or spatial impact on development, technology is used to depict those changes. During the consideration of these major amendments we used technology in the following ways: Cross-sectional computer graphics were created to show the impact with different road configurations of the three different Scenic Corridor designations on open space, signage, and vegetation with residential and non-residential development. Using parcel mapping on current aerial photography we were able to create precisely the impact of the proposed open space requirements on all seven golf courses in Lexington County if any of them were abandoned. Video, digital photography, and computer animation were all used to depict the visual impact of various sign options being considered. All road segments being considered for Scenic Corridor designation were tagged accordingly in our road centerline database so that they could be mapped at any time for a visual review. That also allowed the approved segments to immediately be dropped into the zoning coverage of our on-line maps.
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Scenic Corridors and Open Space Lexington County, South Carolina

5. The Cost of the Program


The development review process for zoning and landscaping is handled out of the Countys Department of Community Development. Because the Zoning Ordinance amendments simply replaced an existing set of sign restrictions with a new set, there were no additional costs incurred with the new scenic approach. The previous Landscape Ordinance which covered only the most urban/suburban portions of the County was enforced by one employee with very specific expertise with trees. Once the economic recovery returns to a pre-recession level of development, it will take one additional employee to fully manage the requirements of a county-wide implementation of the new Landscape and Open Space Ordinance.

6. The Results/Success of the Program


The various problems and needs and their impact on the Program were outlined above. The following comments demonstrate that we were 100% successful in addressing all of these issues: Preservation of trees in residential subdivisions All residential subdivisions in Lexington County will now contain at least a minimum of 10% open space. Business failure of golf courses serving as an amenity to residential development Now the abandonment of a golf course in the County will give homeowners along the fairways open space as a substitute where appropriate, while still allowing for reasonable use of the golf course property not involved with residential development. Implementation process for Scenic Corridors Created 254 miles of Scenic Corridors with a comprehensive approach rather than laboring over the existing process that would have involved voting on roads one segment at a time. Compatibility of sign regulations when property is annexed by a municipality Almost none of our newly-developed commercial properties will have non-conforming signs if they are annexed into any of our fifteen municipalities. Addressing the responsible use of digital technology in signs Business and advertising signs using digital technology now have only 90 days, once notified, to come into compliance with the new requirements of the County. Expansion of the Landscape Ordinance county-wide The newly named Landscape and Open Space Ordinance is being implemented county-wide.

Scenic Corridors and Open Space Lexington County, South Carolina

7. Worthiness of the Program


The coordinated update of the sign section of the Zoning Ordinance and expansion and update of the Countys Landscape Ordinance was the single most comprehensive aesthetic project in the County during the last 35 years. It involved widespread use of computer technology just to manage and depict the many possible solutions to a long list of problems. However, the most important aspect of the entire project is the flexibility of both ordinances that allows Lexington County to personalize the implementation of these restrictions to fit the geography, vegetation, personality, and character of the wide variety of regions in this 755-square-mile county. This can be done by selecting the specific aspects of the Landscape and Open Space Ordinance that will apply in each area and designating Scenic Corridors from three very different options.