Exploring the New Greenville Development Code: Understanding How it Will Impact Your Community, Neighborhood, and Greenville

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Join Sherry Barrett, land policy director with Upstate Forever, and Shannon Lavrin, Assistant City Manager for the City of Greenville, as they delve into the new Greenville Development Code. This vital document describes how the city will develop in the coming years, affecting every resident and business owner. Find out what the code contains, why it’s important, and how you can get involved. There will be open houses on February 28th and March 1, so be sure to submit your comments and questions before then. Tune in to understand how the code will shape the city’s future and how it will impact you!

Greenville Development Code website: https://www.greenvillesc.gov/182/Greenville-Development-Code

Interactive zoning map: https://grvlsc.maps.arcgis.com/apps/instant/media/index.html?appid=110e8a41d6e342c48aebdbcce1422178 

Upstate Forever: https://www.upstateforever.org/


Katy Smith: Have you ever traveled through our community and wondered why are businesses here and houses and apartments there, or what else could happen on a given lot? So much of that has to do with zoning codes. Zoning codes regulate how pieces of property can be used. The City of Greenville hasn’t updated its zoning code in 20 years, and think of how much the city has changed and what new living and work styles have emerged since then.

Right now the city of Greenville is looking at a new Greenville development code. This vital document describes the way we literally can develop in coming years. Today, Sherry Barrett, land policy director with Upstate Forever talks with Shannon Lavrin, assistant City Manager with the City of Greenville about what the Greenville Development Code is, what it contains and why it’s important, and most importantly, how you can get involved. Shannon will give you details and I mean specifics on how to look at the proposed maps and codes and allowable uses for property, making it so easy to engage, especially if you like maps and you’re concerned about growth, you will love it.

We’ve put links to all of these tools and contact methods on the episode page, and we’ve linked to previous episodes that cover growth and development as well. Now important, there will be open houses on February 28th and March 1. So if you’d like to submit your comments or any questions you have, please be sure to do so before then in the way that Shannon describes on the episode.

Sherry Barrett: I’m Sherry Barrett, land policy director with Upstate Forever, and I’m delighted to be here today with Shannon Lavrin. Shannon is the Assistant City Manager for the City of Greenville. We’re here today to talk about the new Greenville Development Code. The City of Greenville recently released a draft of the New Greenville Development Code. Once adopted, the new code will affect every resident and business owner in the city.

Today we want to bring listeners attention to the public process underway to finalize and advance the new development code for adoption by city Council this spring. In the spirit of Simple Civics, let’s start with the basics, shannon. What is a development code and why is now the time for a new one in the city of Greenville?

Shannon Lavrin: Well, thank you Sherry. I appreciate y’all having me today and being a part of this and, um, I’m really excited about the work that we’ve been doing for the city of Greenville and in our planning department. So today we’re gonna be talking a little bit about the Greenville Development Code. And a development code is essentially a zoning ordinance.

It is the rules that are put in place by community as to how that community can develop. And so that entails all types of regulations and restrictions that you will find on land, but it also allows for permissions that you will find on land. Zoning has been found throughout the United States for close to a hundred years and is found almost in every community across the country. And zoning is something that is usually bestowed to a community, through an enabling legislation by your state legislature. So that is what we’re working on is our zoning code and our zoning policies for the city.

And that is our new Greenville development code. And for us, we go further than just regulation. We look at land development requirements as well, all, all the way down to the type of inlet that can be used when you’re looking at storm water to the width of your street specifications or a depth of what we expect when a sidewalk is poured.

So that is all within our land development regulations for the city and the first part of that that we’ve released is our zoning code. The technical portion that gets into the very detailed specifics about things such as how deep does my sidewalk have to be, um, or how wide does my sidewalk have to be, will be released later this spring, and what’s known as our engineering and design specifications manual.

So why is now a good time? We have not updated our zoning code in the city for about 20 years. We actually don’t know when the last complete overhaul of the zoning code was completed. Um, for the City of Greenville, we know that a substantial portion of the code was reviewed in the early two thousands.

But we’ve not had a, a complete overhaul of the zoning code since that time.

Sherry Barrett: The time is now. If it’s been more than, more than 20 years since the code was really given an a, a good overhaul and so much has changed.

Shannon Lavrin: That’s right. It, we are way overdue.

And think about how much Greenville has changed in the last 20 years. You know, I grew up in Asheville, not far from here. And we used to come to Greenville to go to Haywood Mall to go shopping but there’s a lot that’s changed about Greenville in that time from when we used to come down to Haywood Mall to go shopping or go to TJ Max before we had one in Asheville.

And so I think that that’s really important is that we are looking at zoning codes that are in place that have been in place for 20 years that don’t take into account all of the things that have happened within this community over the last 20 years. And it also doesn’t contemplate all of the advancements that we’ve had in land development over the last 20 years.


Sherry Barrett: What are the overarching goals of the new code?

Shannon Lavrin: So the code is based on the Greenville 2040 plan. For those, um, who may not know, Greenville 2040 is our city’s long range comprehensive plan. The city is required under the state of South Carolina to update it every 10 years, and we completed that work in 2021.

So our city council adopted Greenville 2040 in 2021. And then, um, they adopted a consistency policy thereafter, which led into the adoption or moving into wanting to develop a new zoning code. I think that a lot of people think that when a policy is adopted, that that means that all the work is done.

And in our world, in city government, a policy is a policy, but it doesn’t really have any teeth to it until you put that into a code. And you codify it. And so we are trying to take Greenville 2040 policy now and codify that into a code, and that is what the Greenville Development Code does. So the Greenville Development Code is based on the policies that our community said were important to them as part of the Greenville 2040 plan.

And what our community told us they wanted us to focus on were affordability. Good options for open space and maintaining our open areas and our green spaces. And then finally, um, transportation and mobility. And so we’ve tried to build a code upon those fundamental principles that the community established and adopted in 2021.

Sherry Barrett: Great, thank you. How does the draft code work to accomplish those goals in ways that the city’s existing code either can’t or doesn’t?

Shannon Lavrin: With this code, we’ve really tried to look at urban development, and when I say that it’s how our development patterns occur and being able to put density where density matters.

So, density, most people think of density as the total number of dwelling units per acre. So, when you hear low density that would be.. You, you’ve, you’ve seen codes where you allow one unit per acre. Well, we don’t really have density that low in the city of Greenville. We haven’t for a long time. We have a max of 20 units per acre, which means you can have no more than 20 dwelling units per acre on a, on a property.

And as we start to see development trends change throughout the country and people desiring a more urban lifestyle where they can walk or bike from use to use or from, from work to home. You’re going to see an increase in density, and that means that you would have, you know, a specific number of dwelling units per acre.

And 20 units seems like a lot, but when you start to go up and height, it really isn’t. And it makes projects unaffordable in the long run if there’s not enough density there to, cover the cost of the construction. Looking at where we already have the infrastructure in place to support that density, pushing it towards our corridors and in sections of the community called nodes, which I would, I would equate to larger community areas, many downtowns.

Um, That really provide people an option to live, work, play without really having to leave that node. And all of our nodes being connected by corridors where we already have the infrastructure to support that growth doesn’t mean we won’t have to improve the infrastructure along the way, cuz you know, as you start to grow and you increase density, you also have to look at everything from your sewer capacity to your roadway network.

But, that is how we’re trying to develop and then keep our existing residential areas, you know, residential, preserve the character of those residential areas, which was something else that the community told us that they wanted in Greenville 2040. So we are working hard to make sure that our code delivers a balanced approach to growth and development that accomplish the things that the community told us they wanted through Greenville 2040.

Sherry Barrett: It’s like square peg, round hole.

Shannon Lavrin: That’s right. And so, for example, parking we need to be able to have some flexibility to know that if you’ve got a use in a building that is busy during eight to five, but then another use in the building that’s, you know, geared towards a nighttime use that there’s a need for a shared parking calculation there.

We don’t need to park for both uses. And so those are some examples of how our old code or our existing code doesn’t respond to current development practices or providing us the flexibility as of a community in order to, allow for a reduction in those parking spaces. Because we know that they don’t necessarily need it.

The developer knows they don’t necessarily need it, but we have a code that says they do. So trying to make sure that our codes match what is happening in our community is really important. Parking being one of those, I think we would all agree that we’d much rather have green space on a site that preserves the long-term environment of our community than extra parking, just for the sake of saying, yep but that met the code. And so I think that’s an example of how our current code just doesn’t reflect what is happening here in our community.

Sherry Barrett: Thank you and great explanation and example. So who should be actively engaged in reviewing and providing feedback on the Draft Greenville development code and why?

Shannon Lavrin: Everyone. This code affects everyone. You don’t have to be a zoning expert and you don’t have to be you know, someone who I know a lot of people, you know, are probably the idea of zoning is probably very boring to them and is, you know, they’d rather see paint dry. I tell people all the time, zoning is fun.

They laugh at me about it, but I’m like, no, zoning is fun. Understanding zoning and how that affects you is really important because a lot of people, they own their own, they own property. A lot of people may own property. Maybe the biggest purchase they ever make in their entire life and probably their biggest asset is property they own. And so zoning impacts everyone because if you own property or you live on property, or you work on property, zoning impacts you somehow some way. So everyone should look at it. But, I will also say, you don’t have to look at the whole book to know how it impacts you.

Sherry Barrett: That’s my next question. So my next question is, say I’m a resident of the city. Mm-hmm. , walk me through the steps I should take to understand how the draft code directly impacts my interests. So where do I start?

Shannon Lavrin: So the city of Greenville, at our city website, GreenvilleSC.gov/devcode, D E V C O D E. That is your first place to start. That’s your landing page. And on that, you’re going to find a draft code, a draft zoning map, and the height map for the downtown area for our residents that live in downtown. Cuz we do have a lot of residents that live in downtown. They will want to look at that.

That’s our height map for the downtown area. When you go onto that page, onto that landing page, you’re also going to find a link that says interactive zoning map. You wanna click that link and you can enter your address and it will take you to your property. It will show you the property in question, and it will also tell you the existing zoning classification and the proposed zoning classification.

That’s how easy it is to find out how this impacts me. Next, you’re then gonna wanna look at your proposed zoning classification. Go to the table of contents and the draft code, find that page, or most of them are two to four pages, and within a couple of minutes you’re gonna know what your property requirements are, what are the regulations for both site and building for your property. So for an example, let’s say that you go and put in your address of 1 23 North Main Street and you find out that you are now going to be a R H A. What does the R H A mean? You can go into the draft code, find that page, and know within a few minutes exactly what that means.

Takes five minutes. Then the next part of that that you wanna check is the use table, which is I think 19 3 in the new code. And look at the use table. Find your new zoning classification, and you can follow the chart. It’s color coded. You can follow the chart to see all of the uses that are either permitted by right, which means that they can just come into our office and receive a permit , and when I say our office, the planning office for the City of Greenville, or it may require a special exception. A special exception is a use that requires a hearing in front of the Board of zoning appeals before that use can be granted. Usually there are specific use standards for that use that have to be met in order for the Board of Zoning appeals to grant such special exception. And it is a public hearing process so that the public is invited to have an opportunity to weigh in on that use. So that’s the only thing you’re gonna see on the use chart. It’s either permitted by right, or it’s a special exception. So you can find out all of that information I would say in less than 10 minutes, and then that way you know exactly how it affects you.

We wanted to make sure that you know, for anyone that it’s accessible and that within a few minutes they can know how it impacts them.

Sherry Barrett: Thank you, Shannon. Now, what ways are available, and when, for residents and business owners to provide feedback on the draft development code before the new code is adopted?

Shannon Lavrin: Yes. So the, the code has to go through several steps in the adoption process. First it goes before the City of Greenville Planning Commission for their review and recommendation, and that is, currently scheduled from March 16th. So we’re hoping to adhere to that date. And then after it goes before the planning Commission..

So once Planning commission makes their recommendation, then it would go before our City of Greenville City Council which it would require two readings at city council. So each one of those steps provide the public an opportunity to speak. However, we would encourage anyone listening to send their comments in to us in writing so that we can review it if we’ve messed the messed something up, we made a mistake. We know that that was gonna happen. We knew that there would have to be tweaks. Uh, I don’t know anyone who puts out a draft zoning map or draft code thinking that’s it. That’s when the collaboration and the dialogue starts. You know, you have to get something out to start the collaboration and the dialogue, but that’s really where the true collaboration begins, because now you have a document and a map that people can reference and say, okay.

I’m good with that, or I’m not good with that and I wanna talk to staff about that. Our City of Greenville planning staff is meeting with groups all over the city. We’ve met with over 447 people over the last three weeks. When you look at the, everyone that’s been to our meetings, we’re meeting multiple times each day.

So today, earlier today, I was in a group meeting with a few members of our community. And at the same time I was there, um, with a couple members of staff, uh, members of my staff were at one of our local architecture firms in town, meeting with their staff.

I think by the end of it we’ll probably have met with over a thousand people. We’re trying to be as publicly accessible in this process as possible, and I feel like we’re doing a good job with that. If you want, if you want to meet with us and you want to get it to us, we’re trying to make sure you can.

So that’s the first way is if you wanna come and meet with the planning. We we are scheduling those meetings. Sharon Key is who is scheduling those for us. That’s, and her email is on the landing page. That’s right. It, the, her email is on the landing page. You can click it and go directly to Sharon and she will get it on our calendars and she’ll get members of staff to be and come and meet with the community, whether it’s three people or 40 people or a hundred people. Then the other way that we are accepting, um, feedback and comments, and this is really important because this is how we know. That it’s important enough that we have to address it and we’re cataloging it.

It’s through a portal that we use at the city called Public Input. We used it during the comp plan very successfully. We, our, our city has used it for other projects to receive feedback such as during the redistricting process. So we are using that and that is devcode@public input.com and if you email it to us, it goes into the portal.

Sherry Barrett: And don’t be afraid to send in what you like about the code.

Shannon Lavrin: That’s right Sherry. Don’t be afraid to send in what you like about the code. This code is bold. This code is reflective of of Greenville. I think Greenville prides itself on being in front of what other communities are doing and this, this code is a.. an example of that. You’re not gonna find this code everywhere, and that’s because this code was created for Greenville. It was created for this community and it’s a code for the people who live here. And I think that that’s really important is that this is a very bold code that is forward thinking, that really looks at how do we balance growth and development in a community?

And I think that there’s a lot of great things in the code. It’s easy for people to focus in on the things that they want changed without acknowledging the things that they like about the code and why this code is gonna move our community forward in a positive direction. Time is of the essence though, because we’ve had the code out in the public realm since the, I think we release January 25th.

January 25th. There you go. So we need your feedback if we’re gonna make the changes before we release the public notice draft. And so time is of the essence. So if you. As a member of any of the audience listening says, I really wanna make a comment concerning dot, dot, dot. Then go ahead and submit that to us in writing cuz we are checking everyone.

Our staff sits down on Mondays and Tuesdays to address the comments that we’ve received since the last round of comments. And we are making a concerted effort. So that everyone who submits a comment gets a response. We wanna make sure that they know that their comments are being read, acknowledged, and in some cases we’ve had some really good, thoughtful, constructive feedback where we’re like, yep, that makes sense.

We need to look at that. We need to change that. All of all the comments are reviewed and that we are trying to address as many of the comments as we can before the next round. So that if it’s, if it’s an easy fix why not go ahead and do it now? At the end of the day, we want a code and a map that benefits the city of Greenville.

Someone in my office keeps saying, you know, this code is for the people who live here. I love that statement. This code is for the people who live here and if we’ve got something in the code that is not for the people who live here that we got wrong, let us know. We don’t want that to derail the passage of the code, all because, you know, we missed a zoning classification that could have easily been changed with a five minute dialogue.

Sherry Barrett: So time is of the essence, is of the essence. Get your comments in to

Shannon Lavrin:devcode@publicinput.com

Sherry Barrett: And do that before the public open houses you mentioned coming up.

Shannon Lavrin: I, I really think that we’re down to about two weeks. So two weeks from today would be the 24th of February. So if you could get that in by 24th of February, then that allows us to make changes.

We’re, we’re making changes now as we get them, but after that, at some point we can’t make changes anymore. So the quicker you get your comments in, the better off that there’s an opportunity that they’ll get addressed before the next draft is released.

Sherry Barrett: So speaking of timing and time being of the essence, so what is the anticipated timeline for adoption of the new code and when will it actually take effect?

Shannon Lavrin: So we’re hoping to have it through the city council by the end of May. Knowing that planning commission, we will have public hearing in March. While I hope they adopt it in March, I am a realist. They may end up being April which means city Council in May. The idea is that we would adopt it no later than June with a 30 day effective date after, so that it would become effective 30 days after the adoption.

We do have a lot of members within the community that are holding on projects waiting to see what happens with the code. Cuz they don’t know whether, do I work under the new code or do I work under the old code? And so they’re looking for definitive answers when it comes to, to that. And then we have also neighborhoods that would like to know, okay, is this under the old code or is this under the new code?

What protections do I have now? What protections will I have then? So I think that you know, we don’t want this to lag on for months and months. I think we wanna move forward with the adoption once we’ve made the changes so that we have those in place. By no later than, you know, the end of June.

And, you know, the idea is a 30 day effective date so that our, our people who are working on projects are you know, and that can be anybody that, that could be someone who’s wanting to do an addition to their home and is waiting to know what are the rules gonna be for me? We know that there may be things in that need to be reviewed that may come up after the adoption of the code where some things may need to be tweaked, and that’s why we plan to initiate a one year review period after the code. So once we’ve had a year of operating under the new code, then to go back and examine what’s working and what’s not, so that we can constantly keep adapting to what’s happening in our community.

I think that’s one of the issues with the existing code is that. A while, you know, a long time ago, they didn’t really keep it up. And then what happens is then you’re trying to make text amendments all at once, and then it’s like, oh, but I forgot that that’s also in this section of the code. And that section of the code didn’t get changed through much this section of the code.

So we wanna do a better job of trying to keep up with those changes going on forward. So we wanna initiate a one year review period. Probably for the first couple of years afterwards to say, okay, what do we, what do we get wrong? What did we get right? I wouldn’t have a problem. I don’t think it’s bad planning to, to look at your code every year and ask yourself, what did we get wrong?

What did we get right? You know, people kind of cringe when I say this, but it won’t be long before it’ll be time for our five year, mid-year mid-cycle update for the Greenville 2040 plan.

Sherry Barrett: One last question to close out our conversation, Shannon. What do you think will be the single greatest benefit of the new development code to our community as a whole over the long term?

Shannon Lavrin: The ability to incentivize affordable housing. This code is trying to do that, and it is not the only tool that can address affordable housing. But as we know, we have an affordability crisis in Greenville and we do throughout the country, quite frankly, and especially in the Southeast and we are trying to provide a tool in the toolbox to encourage affordable housing and the other code did not do anything to encourage affordable housing.

This code is trying to do that and so if we, if we can accomplish that, that by far will be the most successful impact this code has on has on the city of Greenville.

Sherry Barrett: Fantastic. Thank you. It’s been wonderful talking with you this morning.

Shannon Lavrin: Thank you Sherry. I really appreciate you having me on and to talk about zoning cuz you know, zoning is fun, Zoning is fun.

Catherine Puckett: Simple Civics: Greenville County is a project of Greater Good Greenville. Greater Good Greenville was catalyzed by the merger of the Nonprofit Alliance and the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy. You can learn more on our website at greatergoodgreenville.org. This is a production of the Greenville Podcast Company.

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