Regarding the ecological treasure of Paris Mountain located in Greenville, South Carolina, the issue arose of whether Greenville County government should allow the cutting of more acres of trees and sprawling 74 individual homes across a mountain ridge or a more environmentally sensitive "green" 5-story condominium development.
Paris Mountain resident Eric Kaufmann, who owns the 45 acres in question, originally filed a preliminary subdivision application in June 2012 for a 74-home subdivision. The Greenville County Planning Commission (GCPC) approved that project.
Kaufmann hired environmental consultant Jeff Beacham to assist with his plans, re-filed a new application and asked that the current "environmental sensitive district-Paris Mountain (ESD-PM)" zoning be changed to "Flexible Review District (FRD)" to allow a multi-family unit construction project. Kaufmann stated that if the rezoning was not allowed, he would build the already-approved subdivision. He warned that it would have more impact on the site, take longer to build and add more construction traffic on the winding two-lane Altamont Road.
Plans for the multi-million dollar development named Altera include a 5-story 336,000-square-foot main residential building of 74 high-end condos, meeting rooms, a health club, great hall, sky room, theater, basement parking garage and partially covered rooftop observation decks. There is an additional 10,000-square-foot spa and wellness center, 5,000-square-foot nature center, 5,000-square-foot arts and crafts barn, and a 6,000-square-foot boat house beside the existing 4-acre lake. An interesting choice in name, Altera in Italian means "to alter, change, falsify, garble."
At a March 18, 2013 public hearing, speakers for the project said it would preserve more green space than the approved subdivision and embrace the land better. A Power Point presentation went over the project's scope and intent.
Speakers against included a letter from the Sierra Club with reasons for keeping current zoning, discussion of the sewage issues noting failed systems and bad developments on the mountain, the traffic issue and the fact that Altamont Road cannot be widened and has cyclists, Friends of Paris Mountain State Park's concerns about changing the view from the park and its effect on the 400,000 people who visit yearly, state legislation on mountain tops at 2,550 feet although this is at 2,200, and that the rezoning should not be an option to the proposed subdivision which has a court pending appeal. Numerous emails and letters plus a 1,460 name petition had been received against the project.
In a GCPC meeting on March 27, 2013, the staff recommended denial of the planning change for several reasons. The 5-story building drastically exceeds the permitted 35 feet permitted in existing zoning surrounding the site. There are unknown traffic implications and inadequate sewer treatment for the site.
Current zoning allows 1.1 dwelling units per acre with up to 1.75 dwelling units per acre permitted by acquisition of transferred development rights based on Altamont Road's estimated traffic capacity. The inclusion of the buildings other than the condos brings up possible commercial in nature use of them which could increase traffic to an unknown degree. Traffic from just the condos would typically generate less traffic than the approved single-family subdivision.
The GCPC considered Kaufmann's request on April 24, 2013 and recommended rezoning denial. Read the GCPC summary report on CZ-2013-14 in this PDF. The main issue is wastewater treatment. Kaufmann proposed using self-contained on-site treatment which would cost $1.7 million, not including a pump station and effluent distribution. Connecting to a sewer line including right-of-way purchases and a pump station was estimated at $1.9 million. ReWa said their agreement with Kaufmann was based on a surety bond, later connection to a regional sewer system and his original single-family development plan.
In a May 10, 2013 article in the Greenville Journal, it was reported that Kaufmann withdrew his FRD rezoning request and had to wait at least 6 months to reapply for rezoning. As of this writing, Kaufmann's plans for the property are unknown.
Is there a third alternative to fund a buy off from the landowner and conserve the acreage as a positive influence for global warming, a home for wildlife and a pleasant view from Paris Mountain State Park? The United States congress has an annual secret black budget for over 50 billion dollars for unaccountable defense spending. There should be a way to find a few million to defend and wrest mountain ridges from money-hungry American landowners so there will be something left worth defending.
Kaufmann says of the land his uncle owned and he visited as a child that he is "trying to create a cool thing to share with everybody. " Most Paris Mountain lovers would probably think it more cool if it were conserved in a land bank. They might even contribute to a kickstarter fund.