The City of Clemson on May 4th passed a motion to extend its moratorium (temporary hold) on large-scale high-density housing units until September 1. This extension was necessary to create room for much-needed public contribution. According to the City Council, “the quarantine caused by COVID-19 has limited opportunities to gather public input”.
Moratorium passed in January
Earlier on in January this year – the Clemson City Council had voted to approve a prohibition on large-scale multi-family developments. This effectively put a pause on the construction of apartment complexes (many of which are marketed to students at the Clemson University) for 6 months (ending on June 30).
The small college town is working to find a permanent solution to its growing pains, which have in recent years been spurred by rising enrollment at the university. Many residents feel that student housing developments have been overbuilt over the last five years. This moratorium would allow an opportunity to step back and create a vision to inform governing bodies, the planning department, and business stakeholders for years to come.
“We represent 100% of the community and I think this is our chance to step back and think about where we want to go,” said council member Robert Halfacre in January after the resolution was passed.
Lessons from Athens, Georgia
Athens, Georgia is a city with 8 times the population of Clemson, but with many of the same problems due to a large university in its vicinity. Since 2002, the city has passed multiple moratoria to control growth fueled by growing student populations at the University of Georgia.
“A moratorium gives us a chance to breathe for a second and study an issue. And to come up with policy changes or infrastructure adjustments or other kinds of public measures to grow responsibly. Not to stop growing, but to do it in a way that sustainable and makes some sense for the future,” said Bruce Lonnee, an Athens based planning official.Mr. Lonnee argues that many of Athens’ moratoria have succeeded because they had a clear, well-defined project scope.
Perhaps, Clemson city planners can borrow a leaf or two from Athens’s comprehensive planning processes over the last 2 decades.
Community input is crucial
By extending the June 30 deadline to September 1, the Clemson steering committee appreciated that community input is a crucial part of the planning process. The team says they plan to encourage extensive discussions while involving traditionally ‘hard to reach’ populations such as minorities and university students.
Major J.C. Cook and council member John Ducworth, both of whom had opposed the moratorium in January, agreed that the extension was important in order to get the process right.
“What’s two more months,” Cook said Monday night. “…Life is a whole lot more important than just getting something done… so let’s get it done right and do it right for our community.”
Development Strategies – the consultant assigned with supporting this process – will come to Clemson late May or early June to conduct community meetings and public town halls. Once this process is complete, the consultant and the steering committee will draft a strategic plan and send it to the City Council, which will then vote on whether to adopt it or not.
“We are developing plans for online engagement but are still hopeful things will open up and the consultants can be here in person. Either way, we remain hopeful that the plan can be substantially and satisfactorily complete by September,” said Bob Brookover, the steering committee chair and a Clemson university professor.