Conservation Corner: The landowner holds all the cards

Published 8:00 am Thursday, May 3, 2018

“Once a parcel of land goes on the market, the seller and the local community lose nearly all control over what happens with that land.”

The first rebuttal to this statement will probably be that we have zoning rules, and those rules control many of the possibilities open for that land.

To that my answer is…yes, that is correct to a certain extent.

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However, we have many areas of the county with no zoning rules that say that a parcel of open land or farmland cannot be converted to industrial or residential use. For an example of farm and forestland being lost for our county forever, simply look at Tryon International Equestrian Center and all the development after that 900-acre parcel changed hands.

The original 900 acre purchase has resulted in hundreds more acres of open land loss and subsequent rezoning that will open up the possibility of 1,900 more housing units on that land.

If you need another example, just look at Chocolate Drop Mountain. The planned major subdivision met all the zoning codes, but unfortunately, the land itself did not respond well environmentally to the road building requirements of the subdivision ordinance.

Last Monday, many Polk County owners of undeveloped land got letters from a firm in Florida offering to buy their land. Two and a half weeks ago, we got notice that Henderson County is planning to build a huge law enforcement training facility on the steep mountain slopes adjoining the Green River west of Saluda.

Is there any doubt in your mind that development threats are at our doorstep? As citizens, what can we do?

The answer is to work together as a community.

When information got out about the proposed police training facility, Saluda folks banded together in a heartbeat to protest. Thanks to the Saluda Lifestyles, there was a mechanism already in place to spread information around the community. The Polk County Commissioners wrote a letter to Henderson County in opposition to the proposed training site.

Being able to orchestrate the appearance of 200-plus people protesting the facility on the Henderson County courthouse steps by the next Saturday morning was a feat that few other communities could have managed. The group of local residents that are part of the Save Saluda initiative were able to react quickly in an emergency.

The challenge for us is that we should learn to be proactive about preservation of our rural communities so that we will not be forced to react. We have many landowners who want to preserve their land and our small community connectivity, but they simply do not know how to do it.

Take time to learn about conservation subdivisions, conservation easements, deed restrictions and programs that may actually pay for land preservation.

A consequence of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 is that a seller cannot refuse an offer to purchase from a buyer offering the full asking price.

I’ve seen it happen over and over again, when the buyer tells the seller that he simply wants a pretty piece of land to build a house for his lovely wife. Then, after the closing, that new owner turns his new property into a trailer park, or a subdivision, or Walmart parking lot. You name it, and it’s been done. 

Whoever holds the deed also holds all the cards. All we need to do is look at the plans for the Henderson County law enforcement training center, with its outdoor shooting range, to know how dangerous this reality can be.

Please reach out to your neighbors if they are thinking about selling their land. There are many options available for preserving what is best to preserve, while allowing for sustainable development, determined by “the lay of the land.”

There are options that would actually help bring our community closer together than tear it apart. We simply have to work together in order to make the best land use decisions possible for the benefit of the seller and the future of our wonderful community.

One of my favorite sayings is that, “We either all win or we all lose.” Let’s all win!