Dorchester County looks at zoning some parcels

— Rural property won’t be zoned if it raises taxes. That’s the public stance of Dorchester County Council as it considers rural zoning for the third time.

A council committee is studying two recommendations from the county planning commission:

To establish economic development zones emphasizing business and industrial in small nodes of the rural community where businesses or industries already exist.

To offer voluntary agricultural districts to existing farms as a method of protecting the farmland as adjoining land is developed.

This would be the county’s third try in three years to win support for any parcels of zoning among 260,000 acres of the county that are now zoned “absence of control.” And it’s far from a done deal. County staff will contact property owners in the proposed economic zone to “determine their wishes,” Administrator Jason Ward said.

“We want to make sure taxes don’t go up,” Councilman George Bailey said. “That’s a big concern for property owners.”

The “absence of control” acreage consists of 3 of every 4 acres in the county; the 42,000-acre East Edisto holdings of MeadWestvaco’s development company have been moved to a planned unit development category, essentially a zoning master plan.

The acreage sits almost entirely in the countryside outside the booming Summerville suburban area.

At a series of public meetings last year, county planners broached the idea of dividing the unincorporated county into three areas — base rural, emphasizing residential, agricultural and home business; crossroads, emphasizing a more town-oriented mix of uses; and economic development. In the proposal, more than 90 percent of the land would have been zoned base rural.

This effort was spurred by resident concerns over plans to build a cement plant along quiet Zion Road and create junkyards elsewhere in the county, across from residences.

But the planners were met with largely hostile audiences and at one point were called pawns of a United Nations conspiracy.

Because of the resistance, the Planning Commission decided to recommend only the economic development category to council at this point, said Robert Pratt, commission chairman. That category seemed to be the most acceptable to residents.

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