GEORGETOWN — Many Georgetown County residents have been anxious for months to see an update to the county comprehensive plan, as its update deadline set by the state passed more than a year ago.
Planning commission approved 4-2 the first element of the comprehensive plan — the cultural resource element — Aug. 19 to county council, but some commissioners were confused why the element was given to them without a vision statement.
"If we can't have a discussion about getting a community vision first, then ... how are we going to later update this cultural resources element to incorporate the vision that this community comes up with for the entire comp plan?" planning commissioner Sandra Bundy asked county planning director Holly Richardson.
More than anything, though, residents and commissioners alike expressed the same concerns they have been expressing for months: what an update to the land use element will look like, and when it will come.
Residents have accused the county of not following the current land use element several times, specifically a portion that states new residential development in the Waccamaw Neck should be limited due to increasing population.
According to Census data, South Carolina's population grew by more than 11 percent in the last decade, and Georgetown County's population grew by four percent.
The county and Richardson have said several times the comprehensive plan is not a law-binding rule book, but a set of guidelines the county can look to for its future goals.
Residents also accused the county before and during the Aug. 19 planning commission meeting of not accepting public input on the comprehensive plan update, and even actively excluding it.
Richardson countered by saying public input was offered in comprehensive plan workshops last fall, and those which determined further study on the draft plan was required along with more public input, which will happen at workshops the county has planned for this fall, Richardson said.
Bundy later accused Richardson and the planning department of slowing down the comprehensive plan update purposefully, but Richardson disagreed, citing COVID-19 and the county's data breach as reasons the update has taken longer than the county hoped.
Richardson also said before any more elements of the comprehensive plan come before planning commission, a survey will be sent to county residents to get their input on a vision like Bundy was requesting. This input along with several workshops the county plans to hold over the coming months will be used to formulate a vision for each individual element and the comprehensive plan as a whole.
The cultural resource element of the plan serves as an inventory of cultural resources in the county, Richardson said. It also serves as a guide for what facilities exist where in the county. This ensures officials can track development and ensure significant places, events or people are maintained, kept safe and honored.
"It covers things like historic resources, but not just that, also the recreational and natural resources that we have as well as classes you can take, and events and festivals," Richardson said. "It's a flavor of what Georgetown County is about and what makes Georgetown County different from other counties."
The biggest difference in this update is its user friendliness and information added related to African American heritage and ecotourism.
Richardson said previously, the document was hard to navigate and had a lot of information all from the same sources that has now been slimmed down to just include a link to the source. The county also consulted with its parks and recreation department, Richardson said, as well as local Gullah Geechee members on what specific information should be added to the guide.
The last update to this section of the comprehensive plan was in 2010, and state law says comprehensive plans must be updated at least every decade. Some municipalities, Richardson said, update their plans all together, but Georgetown has always done it one element at a time because of staffing.