Mayor Brandy Amidon
This letter from the Mayor was featured in the Greenville News, op-ed, Jan 2021.
Since I first became a City Council member in Travelers Rest more than 10 years ago, “sustainable growth” has been one of our top priorities.
Greenville County has seen 33.56% population growth from 2000 to 2019; we have seen 25.69% growth of residents in TR. While it may seem as though Upstate growth has been a big topic of discussion only recently, those of us in local governments have been planning and preparing for years.
Travelers Rest’s transformation from a drover rest stop more than 200 years ago, to a highway bypass in the ’80s, to a small town ripe with development and visitors in the ’00’s is a story all on its own. But what’s usually left out of that transformation story is the preparation for and intentional development of our city by local government and elected officials.
In the past 10 years, TR residents have felt and seen the pressures of growth and change on a regular basis, from the development of the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail and the revitalization of our Main Street. Whether they’ve lived in TR for a lifetime or moved here two years ago, residents feel strongly invested in developments and preservation of our community. And our local government feels the same way. It’s why we’ve put so much emphasis on sustainable growth. It’s the filter through which we make decisions.
Most municipalities our size, population less than 6,000, don’t have a full-time planning member on staff. More than three years ago, we invested in a planning director,. The city completed a comprehensive Master Plan in 2018 that outlines our challenges as a small community and our values. Smart Growth is our No. 1 core value, followed by Connectivity, Arts and Culture, and Small Town Character. .
In 2019, we created a Downtown Master Plan. Again, public input was a priority; we received more than 2,000 survey responses and hosted multiple community meetings. And while we make every effort to focus on sustainable growth, we also understand that government isn’t in control of all things. Land rights are still in place. Local governments don’t have absolute control over all developers and private property, as people assume.
Zoning dictates a majority of what can be built on a parcel. The rest goes into relationship building and partnerships to focus on win-win situations that are highly preferable to adversarial ones. One commercial growth example of late is Starbucks, coming to TR on Highway 25 beside Wendy’s. Did Starbucks call me, the mayor, to ask permission to build? No. The property was zoned commercial, and Starbucks can build what it likes within the zoning and city building requirements.
Does having a Starbucks mean we are no longer TR? That we’ve sold out and our local coffee shops aren’t valued? No, again. Those are fear-based concerns about change, and I respect and understand them.
However, after living here for my entire life, I know that having a Burger King and Hardee’s built in the ’80’s didn’t alter who we were as a TR community. Adding a Walmart in the early ’90s did not, either, and future developments on Highway 25 will not. That area is intentionally zoned for larger commercial corporations. In comparison, Main Street is intentionally planned to support bikable and walkable spaces centered on thriving local businesses.
With planning, TR is being intentional around growth. Along with business development, there’s housing. An example of housing concern of late is a townhome development requesting annexation into city limits down past Gateway Elementary School. While currently the property is in the county, which has fewer zoning restrictions, the property owner has requested annexation. The owner enjoys working with our TR staff and feels the added benefit of city police and fire protection is a huge value.
If we said no to the annexation, the site would be developed, anyway. And the city would feel the impact of the residential growth without the added tax revenues to supplement city safety staff, even though those resources would be tapped.
My main job as mayor is listening to community concerns, fears and suggestions on how to keep what we love about TR, and how we always focus on betterment.
What comes next are actionable steps to make sure those concerns are heard and addressed as we continue to grow as a city, county and state. Our Planning Commission and City Council are made up of diverse groups of residents who are focused on smart growth for TR. While change is a given, our priority still lies in ensuring that our sense of place and community, which has always been unique to TR, remains.