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SC law aims to shield manufacturers; will it allow ‘nuisances’ in York County?

Residents of the BridgeMill subdivision in Indian Land wore matching shirts when they turned out last year to protest a proposed rezoning for neighboring McClancy Seasoning Co., which wanted to expand.
Residents of the BridgeMill subdivision in Indian Land wore matching shirts when they turned out last year to protest a proposed rezoning for neighboring McClancy Seasoning Co., which wanted to expand. Fort Mill Times file photo

It’s a new law designed to protect manufacturers from neighbors filing nuisance lawsuits.

But will it work?

Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill Tuesday he says will protect South Carolina companies from nuisance complaints or lawsuits, as long as the business is following all laws, licensing, regulation and local ordinances related to what it does. McMaster said the bill further demonstrates to would-be investors in South Carolina “that they know what they’re getting” and won’t be “vexed with unnecessary complaints and lawsuits.”

“One of the things that has troubled some is nuisance lawsuits that have no basis,” McMaster said.

“So, what we’re doing is making the pre-existing common law even more clear to say that as long as a business is following all the rules and has all the permits and documentation that it needs to have, someone who moves near that plant or facility can’t start complaining that it is there doing what it is licensed to do.”

Statements of support rolled in from the manufacturing community Tuesday.

“As South Carolina’s population continues to grow and neighborhoods continue to expand closer and closer to existing manufacturing facilities’ footprints, it is important to provide certainty to those manufacturers so that they can continue to invest, operate and provide jobs,” said Sara Hazzard, South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance president and CEO.

Hazzard sees the legislation as fair to manufacturers and residents.

“South Carolina manufacturers strive to be good neighbors and this legislation strikes a balance between the needs of industry and the rights of citizens,” she said. “This law will encourage future South Carolina manufacturing capital investments and jobs.”

State Rep. Mike Forrester, lead sponsor of the legislation, said the law addresses the increased “threat of nuisance lawsuits” and is “able to address the needs of the business and industry and still protect the individual property owners’ rights. Representatives of Volvo Car Group, Sonoco and others lauded the legislation.

“The manufacturing sector employs nearly 12 percent of the state’s workforce and is on the rise in the Palmetto State — paving the way for job creation, economic growth and unrivaled innovation,” said Ted Pitts, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce presidents and CEO.

Pitts said more than 47,000 manufacturing jobs have been announced in the past seven years, and employment in advanced manufacturing is up more than 19 percent.

Last year, a proposed concrete plant on Bethel School Road in Lake Wylie got residents nearby upset, and got the same council looking at what types of rules and zoning should allow mining, quarries and similar land uses.

“The passage of this bill represents a unified effort between job creators, the legislature and the governor to protect existing South Carolina businesses and encourage continued growth in the manufacturing sector,” he said.

The issue could present itself locally.

Fort Mill, Indian Land, Lake Wylie and Tega Cay are among the highest-growth areas in the state. Both residential and commercial growth are prevalent throughout eastern York County and the Lancaster County panhandle.

Fort Mill started development impact fees several years ago to better manage growth, with York and Lancaster counties studying them now. Indian Land has an incorporation vote March 27, an effort spurred largely by land use decisions. Some in Lake Wylie briefly studied incorporation for the same reason.

Yet for several instances in recent years where homeowners and businesses have come too close for comfort, it isn’t clear the new legislation would’ve helped.

In 2015, outcry from BridgeMill subdivision residents arose when a rezoning came up for neighboring McClancy Seasoning Co. in Indian Land. The rezoning would’ve allowed McClancy to expand its operation. Lancaster County officials had mistakenly put a residential zoning on the McClancy site decades earlier. Hundreds of residents spoke out against the rezoning to light industrial in 2015, which was voted down then brought back up for reconsideration.

The company sued the county after its initial rejection. Residents again turned out in force nearly a year ago when the issue resurfaced and were talking about filing suit if the county allowed the rezoning. Which the county did.

It’s important to have policies like (the new law) that encourage fair, consistent and common-sense approaches in the legal system because this allows manufacturers to continue to do what they do best — create, innovate, and provide meaningful local employment.

past South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance chairman.

In the McClancy case there was an issue where zoning didn’t allow business expansion. Something that happens rather frequently. In 2016, neighbors in the River Hills community of Lake Wylie complained when an adjacent property owner pitched a new business complex. The property owner operated an industrial distribution businesses for three decades in Heritage Park, but wanted to build just beside that site on a five-acre property. Acres that were zoned residential.

Residents and the business agreed on some buffering and other concessions, but couldn’t reach full consensus. So, York County Council had to vote, denying the rezoning 4-3.

Last year, a proposed concrete plant on Bethel School Road in Lake Wylie got residents nearby upset, and got the same council looking at what types of rules and zoning should allow mining, quarries and similar land uses. Residents complained about noise at an existing plant nearby, at S.C. 557 and Riddle Mill Road. A contentious quarry plan in the Bowling Green area of Clover stirred residents back in 2014, before council voted down a rezoning to allow it.

Then there were the Indian Land concrete factories neighbors gathered to complain about back in 2008, saying three there — with one more on the way — were too loud.

For existing plants, the new law clears up that even if residential growth moves toward them, the manufacturer can keep at its business. Planned ones are another matter. So if residents want to complain about noise, traffic or other concerns, they’re going to have to get started earlier in the process.

New businesses often hinge on the rezoning process. Plans often fall through if rezoning fails, as happened two years ago to a Fort Mill property along the North Carolina line when neighbors argued a new landscaping company shouldn’t be allowed to replace the long-time nursery that had closed up shop years earlier. The new company looked elsewhere, and the site was later eyed for a veterinary clinic.

York County Councilwoman Allison Love advocates for lower intensity growth in her district, and in fast-growing parts of the county. She is hopeful the new law won’t encourage existing manufacturers to disregard all the wishes of neighbors, even if they are allowed to continue their operations.

“When you have to sign a law allowing noise and light pollution, it’s an obvious nuisance and quality of life should be preserved for our citizens,” Love said.

Love believes the solution is sorting through zoning districts and finding what is allowed where, then working toward community growth that doesn’t put plants and subdivisions on top of one another. As the county continues to do with the concrete plant issue.

“Excusing the affects of these businesses will require proactive zoning,” Love said. “York County is currently in the process of making concrete plants, etc. allowed by special exception only.”

Manufacturers see a new law not to be taken advantage of, but one promoting fairness.

“Manufacturers have a long and proud history of being good corporate citizens to the communities where we work and live,” said Dirk Pieper, past South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance chairman.

“It’s important to have policies like (the new law) that encourage fair, consistent and common-sense approaches in the legal system because this allows manufacturers to continue to do what they do best — create, innovate, and provide meaningful local employment.”

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