A Delicate Balance: Planning, Zoning, and Politics

JurisdictionSouth Carolina,United States
CitationVol. 35 No. 1 Pg. 50
Publication year2023
A Delicate Balance: Planning, Zoning, and Politics
Vol. 35 Issue 1 Pg. 50
South Carolina Bar Journal
July, 2023

A Delicate Balance

Planning, Zoning, and Politics

By Patrick Hubbard


When asked what his plan was, Indiana Jones replied: "I have no plan; I'm just making it up as I go along.[1] Though such "muddling through has its defenders,[2] it was deliberately rejected by "progressives as an approach to land use regulation in favor of "rational comprehensive planning in the early twentieth century.[3] Many states, including South Carolina, use this comprehensive planning approach in their statutory authorization of zoning. These statutes are generally called "enabling acts because they enable local governments to use zoning to regulate land use. The goal of these acts is to establish a delicate balance among three concerns: planning, zoning, and politics.

This wide-spread approach is due in large part to the adoption of the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act (SZEA), which was initially drafted by a committee on zoning formed by the Commerce Department in the 1920s.[4] By 1925, nineteen states had used the SZEA in drafting zoning enabling statutes.[5]It is interesting to note two things: (1) these developments occurred before the United States Supreme Court held that zoning was constitutional in 1926[6] and (2) because the first draft of the SZEA was released in December 1922, the SZEA is now one hundred years old.[



South Carolina initially adopted a version of the SZEA in 1924[8] and has updated its act several times. At one time, South Carolina had two different statutory schemes addressing zoning. One scheme was contained in Title 5, ch. 23 of the 1976 Code. The other was contained in Title 6. In 1984, the Court of Appeals concluded:

After comparing the two statutes, we hold that they exist harmoniously and are designed to the same end. Both chapters result in (1) the appointment of a commission to study zoning law, future growth, etc. (2) the formation of a comprehensive plan and (3) the requirement that zoning (sign) ordinances be adopted in accordance with a comprehensive plan. We hold that the two statutes are consistent with each other.[9]

These two schemes were replaced by the current act, which is titled "South Carolina Local Government Comprehensive Planning Enabling Act of 1994.[


] [hereinafter "Enabling Act]

A. The Planning Commission

In order to adopt zoning regulations, a local government must establish a planning commission. The Enabling Act contains a number of provisions that grant power

to and impose duties on the planning commission. For example, section 6-29-340(A) of the Enabling Act provides:

It is the function and duty of the local planning commission, when created by an ordinance passed by the municipal council or the county council, or both, to undertake a continuing planning program for the physical, social, and economic growth, development, and redevelopment of the area within its jurisdiction. . . . Specific planning elements must be based upon careful and comprehensive surveys and studies of existing conditions and probable future development and include recommended means of implementation.

(emphasis added). Section 6-29-340(B) provides:

In the discharge of its responsibilities, the local planning commission has the power and duty to:

(1) prepare and revise periodically plans and programs for the development and redevelopment of its area as provided in this chapter; and

(2) prepare and recommend for adoption to the appropriate governing authority or authorities as a means for implementing the plans and programs in its area:

(a) zoning ordinances to include zoning district maps and appropriate revision thereof, as provided in this chapter. . . .

(emphasis added). Subsection 6-29510 (A) provides: "The local planning commission shall develop and maintain a planning process which will result in the systematic preparation and continual re-evaluation and updating of those elements considered critical, necessary, and desirable to guide the development and redevelopment of its area of jurisdiction. (emphasis added).

The procedures for the planning commission's recommendations and for local government adoption of zoning regulations are addressed in § 6-29-760.

B. The Planning Commission's Role Under Subdivision Regulations

In addition to its zoning role under Article 5 of the Enabling Act, the planning commission has a major role under Article 7 in regulating land development. This role has two components: (1) preparation of and recommendation of plans, policies, and regulations for land development to the local government council, and (2) administration of the system of land development regulation.

The first role is addressed in subsections 6-29-340(B)(2)a, -b. -c, -d of the Enabling Act, which state that the planning commission has "the power and duty to prepare and recommend: (1) "regulations for the subdivision and development of land; (2) an "official map; (3) "a landscaping ordinance; (4) "a capital improvement program; and (5) "policies or procedures facilitate implementation of planning elements. (emphasis added).

The second role of the planning commission involves its duty to oversee the administration of this land regulation system.[11] Where such administration is involved, any appeal from that decision must be addressed by an administrative appeal and/or a judicial appeal.[12]A similar concern for the role of the comprehensive plan is contained in Article 7 of the Enabling Act. Section 6-29-1120 authorizes land development regulations for a number of purposes, including "to assure, in general, the wise and timely development of new areas, and redevelopment of previously developed area in harmony with the comprehensive plans of municipalities and counties. (emphasis added).

C. Preparing and Adopting a Comprehensive Plan

Given the diversity of cities and counties in South Carolina, it is not surprising that approaches to planning vary enormously. At one end of...

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