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Public Outcry Leads to Withdrawal of Lexington Blight Proposal

A proposed ordinance that proponents argued would have controlled blight in Lexington County ended up stirring up so much ire among residents that it was withdrawn just weeks after being introduced.

“The whole thing is an outrage,” Lexington County resident Paul Graham said shortly before Lexington County Council shelved the controversial plan Tuesday.

“That the government would assume that they could dictate to a property owner details of how that individual’s property should be maintained is a gross abuse of power,” added Graham, who lives in Cayce. “If they (the government) control your yard, they control your house; and then there’s nowhere to run.”

Opposition to the proposal was widespread across the county. Scores of county residents distributed handbills and flyers listing details of the proposal. Among them was Charlotte Bertics of Batesburg, who printed 1,000 flyers with her own money to hand out.

“We moved out in the country because we didn’t want to be bothered,” she said. “If we wanted to live in a neighborhood with a homeowners’ association and a lot of rules and regulations, we would have done so.”

The proposal was designed “to protect and enhance the character, appearance, and image of Lexington County through attractive and creative landscape design and open space; to ensure land-use compatibility through proper use of vegetation and open space as transition areas and screening; and to preserve scenic, canopied tree corridors while balancing the needs and demands of a quickly developing community,” according to the county website.

Under the guidelines, yards and landscaped areas would have to be kept neat, buildings maintained and swimming pools kept up so that mosquitos couldn’t use them as breeding grounds.

The proposal, which would not have applied to any facility owned and operated by Lexington County, received preliminary approval from County Council by a 6-3 vote last month.

However, it sparked a vigorous outcry from those in the county who believe government has no place dictating such things as the height of a homeowner’s grass, the types of trees planted on private property or the use of outdoor storage space.

County Councilman George H. “Smokey” Davis said he got a good bit of feedback from residents on the proposal.

“I have heard from a lot of people who are really angry about it,” he said on Monday, the day before the proposal was scrapped. “They’re calling it the grass police and other nicknames. Some of the comments are founded in reason, and some are uninformed.”

People in less-populated areas of the county tended to be more stridently opposed, while residents in places where abandoned homes exist tended to be more likely to want something done, Davis said.

“I think people’s views on the proposal (varied) depending on the density of the area,” he said.

Several groups worked together to defeat the proposal, including Campaign for Liberty, the Lexington Tea Party, the Columbia Tea Party and the Lexington 912 Project, according to Talbert Black, state coordinator for Campaign for Liberty.

“After we found out about it, the first thing we did was have folks call and contact their County Council members before the first reading,” he said. “We then had people at the first reading and they spoke against the ordinance.”

Afterward, anti-ordinance flyers were printed, and petitions were created, according to Black, one of the organizers of the effort.

Volunteers also spent two weekends canvassing the county and handing out anti-proposal flyers.

Originally, a public hearing on the proposal was scheduled for March 27, but Black believes the concerted effort forced the council to scuttle the issue this week.

The proposed ordinance was shepherded by Councilman Brad Matthew, who represents parts of Irmo along with Seven Oaks, according to fellow Councilman Johnny Jeffcoat.

Matthews did not return calls to The Nerve for this story. However, he told The State newspaper after the proposal was nixed that it was seen as “going too far.”

Graham agreed with that assessment.

“The county is acting like they’re my landlord, and they’re not,” he said. “And if they are, they shouldn’t be.”

Regulations like this are never done for a bad reason, he added. “It’s for your health or your safety or to keep up property values, but before you know it you’re tumbling head long into hell.”

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022 ext. 110, or kevin@thenerve.org.

Accountability Legislation Local Government Transparency Lexington County Council

Lexington County Council Blight Ordinance Property Rights