By Linda Lovely
It’s been 16 years since we built a lake house on a gorgeous peninsula. When we moved to Upstate South Carolina, our neighborhood boasted more trees than people. Quiet. Only one road in—a two-lane with barely enough room for two SUVs to squeeze past each other. We had a volunteer fire department. No sewers, only backyard septic systems. The shoreline had more undeveloped land than lots with houses. The homes were almost all single-family.
Move forward six years. Still more trees than people, but the lake experienced a building boom. Property values skyrocketed. As president of our 118-lot homeowner association, I received a call from a developer. The stranger claimed he had all the approvals needed (county, sewer authority, etc.) to build a high-rise project with 360 units on 18 acres on our narrow peninsula. He said there wasn’t a thing we could do to stop him. The man was beyond arrogant. So, why did he call? Mr. Arrogant wanted to know if we’d sell some of our common community space. The answer was no. Our covenants made this virtually impossible, even if we’d been interested.
I was dumbfounded, and the more I learned about the development the more alarmed and outraged I became. There was no infrastructure (roads, sewer, water, fire/safety) in place to support his project. The six proposed 13-story high rises would have towered over the trees and totally transformed the lake’s shoreline and ambiance while posing potential environmental and safety problems. Authorities had little more than promises the developer would live up to his assurances of future financial contributions.
What happened? I helped establish a nonprofit organization, Advocates for Quality Development (AQD), Inc. Its mission was (and is) rational land planning in our county. At the time AQD was formed, the county had no zoning regulations or land planning effort.
How did this impact my life? I can’t count the hours I spent attending meetings of County Council, Planning Commission, DHEC (Department of Health and Environmental Control), the sewer commission, etc. Thousands more hours were spent on legal strategies, fund raising, public relations, member communications, and research on how other counties approach land planning and zoning.
Yes, I wish I’d had all those hours to spend on fiction writing—or simply enjoying the lake and hiking in the woods. But I’m proud of AQD’s accomplishments. Being part of this organization also proved to be a personal growth experience. Best of all, I met an eclectic group of intelligent, funny and talented citizens I now consider good friends—people I probably would not have met without the controversy.
The personalities I encountered (good, bad and nasty) during my work with AQD have provided great fodder for fictional characters.
Oh, I should also mention the developer went bankrupt, our peninsula is still free of high rises, and our county now has zoning regulations and a start on land planning.
When bad news comes out of the blue, it’s not always possible to see a silver lining. But you never know what may happen if you don’t give up.
What unpleasant surprises have made you angry enough to fight for change?