Characterization of the Ashepoo-Combahee-Edisto (ACE) Basin, South Carolina

Land Use

The ACE Basin is thought of as a large expanse of minimally developed land, characterized by many people as almost pristine. It has, however, been impacted by historical land use (e.g. creation of impoundments, burning, hunting, agriculture, forestry) so that the landscape of the modern-day ACE Basin is very different from what existed centuries ago. The current land uses and management goals of the ACE Basin study area encourage traditional land uses such as forestry, agriculture, and hunting, but in a sustainable manner. The Basin, however, is located between Charleston and Beaufort, two metropolitan areas that are undergoing rapid population growth. The expansion of urban areas to the north and south combined with the rural character, affordable land prices, recreational opportunities, and natural settings available in the vicinity increases the likelihood of urbanization occurring in the ACE Basin. Seaside, marsh side, and island land occur in abundance in the ACE Basin, and the demand for homes located in these settings is expected to double in the future (Howe et al. 1997). A majority of the land in the ACE Basin study area has no land use plan, and thus, is susceptible to changes that may alter the land use patterns which exist today.

Pie graph showing 'Population Distribution Among Five ACE Basin Census Subdivisions'

Numerous state and federal agencies have the responsibility for protecting the state's natural resources and thereby influence land use decisions; however, most of the specific land use decisions are made at the community level. These governing agencies must consider the interests of industry, business, private interest groups, and social planning in making land use decisions. The legal framework for land use planners and regulation in South Carolina is provided by the South Carolina Local Government Comprehensive Planning Enabling Act of 1994 (Municipal Association of South Carolina and South Carolina Association of Counties 1994). The Act outlines seven mandatory elements for a comprehensive land use plan, including population, economic development, natural resources, cultural resources, community facilities, housing, and land use. The Act also requires that local governments establish a Planning Commission to conduct their comprehensive planning.

Over the past two or three years, there has been a noticeable shift in public opinion in coastal South Carolina towards the need for effective land use planning and regulation. There also has been some strong resistance to increasing governmental regulation over the use of private land, both for reasons of ideology and self-interest. This served to slow down the planning process in Colleton County, where development pressures are for the moment less severe. Colleton (draft only), Charleston, and Beaufort Counties as well as the land use plan of the City of Walterboro are summarized in this module. Municipalities are encouraged to adopt wise land use planning and zoning ordinances. To accommodate growth in the ACE Basin, controls must be established so that land use is most compatible with land type. Land use plans should include zoning ordinances to protect assets, rather than the usual conventional regulations that often promote urban sprawl.

The unique landscape of the ACE Basin has been praised nationwide for its importance ecologically and as a model effort in balancing conservation of natural resources with population growth and economic development. Environmental problems in a watershed such as the ACE Basin often result from uncoordinated land use management practices of individual decision makers that, when taken together, cause significant environmental impacts. Natural resources are linked, so that the degradation of one resource affects not only the resource itself but also other resources in and around the impacted area. Land uses and activities that have altered the landscape of the ACE include forestry, agriculture, mining, aquaculture, urbanization, and tourism.

Development in the ACE Basin can be moderated through controlled development, management for habitat and biodiversity, preservation of open space, density neutral development, greenways, buffers, and sustainable development. In particular, sustainable development attempts to integrate ecological and physical processes, human activities, and economic incentives into a management process that conserves the natural resources of an area while sustaining economic goals. Uncontrolled development of land, with no regard for ecological and social impacts, has been recognized as a nonsustainable process. Resource managers, land use planners, developers, and individual land owners have become increasingly aware that development cannot continue down an uncontrolled path without significant negative long-term economic and ecological impacts. Mitigation banking and stewardship development are two alternatives to past development practices that show promise as effective methods to conserve our natural resources. Practices for stewardship development can be implemented during several phases including site selection, site resources, site planning, site development, and site maintenance. The SCDNR has a Stewardship Development Program to promote and honor projects in the state that demonstrate commitment to maintaining and improving natural resources on development sites. Several sites in the ACE Basin have received recognition under the Stewardship Development Program. These are Brays Island Plantation, Spring Island, Newpoint, and Bailey Island Club.

Stakeholders in the ACE Basin must be involved in the planning process despite the diversity of public perception concerning the value of ACE Basin resources. Education and economic status play a major role in forming these views. To complicate matters, it is not always clear where divergent opinions occur, for many participants have multiple and sometimes conflicting interests. Consensus among community members is an important part of the land use planning process, especially when the community must deal with issues of growth and development. Achieving consensus can be difficult. Various factions within a community may have different visions for the future that affect their views of growth and development.

It is evident that public opinion will influence the path that growth and development follows in the ACE Basin, whether it be in the planning stage, implementation stage, or evaluation stage. It would behoove planners to involve the public early in the planning process. Residents are the ones whose quality of life is affected by the changes that occur from stimulating growth in the community. Residents, visitors, and tourists are all also affected by limits of growth in recreational areas. There can be no question but that the opinions and welfare of each must be considered. The control of growth and development must be a major goal for communities wishing to achieve a level of development that is economically profitable but socially and environmentally acceptable (Martin et al. 1998). What lies ahead will depend largely on whether wise planning and stewardship is continued through educational processes; ecological resources and services are conserved through implementation of development techniques that support sustainable development; and new approaches to land use and management are developed that promote sustained use of our natural resources.