Sprawl, good or bad, can have serious implications for taxpaying citizens.

from: GoUpstate 2/25/2018

Is sprawl bad? It is virtually everywhere outside our downtowns and historic neighborhoods. Asheville Highway, Highway 9 and even emerging on Scenic Highway 11 (after all, sprawl is by definition unrestrained).

Indeed, sprawl is the armature underpinning the vast majority of commercial and residential development across Spartanburg County — armature institutionalized through policies that shape our communities, for better or worse.

While many acknowledge the prevalence of sprawl, perspectives and perceptions vary. Some see disorganized, unattractive and unfettered clutter exacerbating traffic woes; others see economic growth and prosperity blossoming right before their eyes. The former may associate sprawl with frustration, disappointment or dismay; the latter, with acceptance or even pride.

Most, understandably, are either nonobservant or oblivious. Very few recognize sprawl for what it REALLY is — a choice. Sprawl, good or bad, is a choice with serious implications for taxpaying citizens. How so?

The Upstate is expecting more than 320,000 new residents by 2040; many will settle in Spartanburg County. The big question for Spartanburg County, and the entire Upstate, is how that growth will be accommodated.

Land development trends in the Upstate over the past several decades have followed a low-density, single-use pattern, moving further and further away from city centers (otherwise known as sprawl). A recent study released by Upstate Forever and partners, Shaping Our Future — Future Growth Alternatives Analysis (www.upstateforever.org/shaping-our-future), found that if these trends continue, by 2040 the amount of land consumed for new growth will more than double the existing development footprint in the Upstate.

In other words, we are on course to consume the same amount of land for 320,000 new Upstate residents as is used to accommodate our existing population of 1.4 million.

Spartanburg County, a county of 524,160 acres (819 square miles) and current population approaching 300,000, is projected to consume an additional 253,391 acres of land accommodating 58,613 new residents by 2040 (more than 4¼ acres per new resident on average). Clearly, our growth issues have less to do with how many people are coming and much more to do with how we are accommodating them.

This tremendous increase in the development footprint will have a huge fiscal impact. According to the study, if these sprawling land-use trends continue to 2040, government’s cost to serve — including water, sewer, roads, and police and fire protection — will increase dramatically over time, and expected revenues will likely not cover even half of projected costs.

The good news is that the study also identified alternative ways to grow — choices. Each of the identified alternatives to sprawl would use land much more efficiently and far more cost-effectively for local governments and taxpayers.

With more than a dozen municipalities and several growing, unincorporated suburban communities, Spartanburg County is well-positioned to embrace alternatives to the sprawling trend development pattern.

Municipalities can start with proactive steps to protect and enhance their urban cores. For example, Spartanburg adopted a form-based code in 2011 to implement the Downtown Master Plan and expanded the code for the Northside Master Plan. These efforts support development and redevelopment of land within an existing urban footprint.

In Landrum, a smaller municipality, a recently adopted comprehensive plan has officials exploring housing and transportation policies to encourage residential infill in existing neighborhoods as well as enhanced community connectivity and walkability, two hallmarks of responsible growth.

In Spartanburg County, Area Performance Planning is presently focusing on the southwest area.

Yet, in Boiling Springs, formal and informal leaders, community partners (including Upstate Forever and the Mary Black Foundation) and concerned citizens are engaging the community at large to develop a shared, community-driven vision for the future of this growing community.

Heart of Boiling Springs and Upstate Forever will host a series of stakeholder interviews in the community March 19-21 and public workshops in partnership with Toole Design Group from 5:30-7:30 p.m. March 22 and 6-7:30 p.m. April 26 at Boiling Springs First Baptist Church, 3600 Boiling Springs Road.

Working in partnership with Spartanburg County, the guiding principles developed during this community visioning process will lay a foundation for the county planning initiative anticipated in the coming year.

Now, to circle back and close the loop on the question that inspired me to share my thoughts: sprawl — a word as ubiquitous as its physical manifestation; derived from “sper” (to strew, meaning to spread or stretch in a careless manner). Is sprawl bad?

Sprawl is a choice, whether intentional or by default. We own it — until we choose differently.

Sherry Barrett is the community design and land planning manager for Upstate Forever. Reach her at sbarrett@upstateforever.org.