(This is the speech which was presented at the Freedom 21 Conference in July 2003, but it has been updated to reflect the latest news in the fight for property rights in SC as of December 2003. Originally printed in PFUSA, Oct. - Dec. 2003. Reprinted by permission of Kay McClanahan.)
It's a real honor for me to be allowed to speak to you today. You are my heroes. I want to share with you what's happening in SC, particularly in Richland County. My husband, Bill, and I own Homestead Farms in Eastover, SC, outside Columbia, the capital, in the rural half of the county called Lower Richland.
We planned our whole lives around the dream of retiring to our little horse farm so we could finally enjoy it full-time. That dream was destroyed in 1999 when the Richland County Council passed the 2020 Town and Country Comprehensive Land Use Vision Plan that will restrict us and our neighbors forever in the use of our land.
The county did it the usual way, we are told. They quietly hired consultants and held "visioning" sessions with hand-picked citizens, most of whom were associated with the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, a SC non-profit land trust which County Council had paid a year earlier to do the land use study that we now know will dictate our new restrictive zoning. We knew nothing about any of it at the time it was happening.
At about the same time, Council set up a Conservation Commission to manage the land grab. This Commission's job is to acquire our land, or our rights to it (through conservation easements), especially after preservation down-zoning ties our hands as to what we can do with it. The Commission hired the same Palmetto Conservation Foundation that did the land use study to select the properties they wanted for "preservation" and they prepared a secret map where our private properties were labeled "Conservation Opportunities." The Palmetto Conservation Foundation and their other land trust comrades will also be paid BIG BUCKS to manage our properties after control or ownership of them is wrestled from us.
Kit Smith, a rich, liberal Democrat Councilwoman, who was on Clinton's local EPA Advisory Board, and who was a founder of the Palmetto Conservation Foundation, is responsible for our Town and Country Plan.
Smith's husband was the President of Nationsbank for NC/SC, then President of Bank of America for the entire East coast, at the time this was evolving, and he personally arranged for the bank to provide a $1.5 million dollar revolving fund for the Palmetto Conservation Foundation and a $50,000 dollar gift just before they were paid $100,000 to do the land use study and visioning meetings for the county.
Although County Council is made up of 6 Democrats and 5 Republicans, the Town and Country Vision Plan passed it 11 and 0.
They also passed an interim ordinance in 1999 so that they could IMMEDIATELY implement the Plan, all but the zoning. It was only good for two years, and basically said that everything in the Plan would be the law until they could pass specific new zoning ordinances, which they really expected to have within a few months.
The most damaging part of the Town and Country Plan is all in one chapter, called the Vision. You can look it up at www.Richlandonline.com under Comprehensive Land Use Plan. It calls for an urban growth boundary, created by down-zoning rural properties outside it to "Preservation Area" green space and denying them infrastructure. The Plan calls for "permanent preservation" of prime farmland, trees, any property on water and the land beside it, and land in the sand hills (all those areas that comprise our entire Southeastern half of the county), and refers to it all 330 square miles of Lower Richland as the "Congaree Preserve," a term we had never heard before.
Preservation zoning of our land will mean that either the property can't be subdivided at all or will mandate that the lots be so large that the average rural property owner won't even have enough property to divide his land between his children, so that a judge has to order that it be sold in order to probate his estate. This is already happening in Charleston County, SC, who got their down-zoning nearly two years ago, where minimum rural lot sizes range from 10 to 25 acres, depending upon where you live.
For example, if you're zoned "Ag 25" (25 acres minimum for one home), have two children, and less than 50 acres, you don't have enough land to legally divide it. It's called "large lot zoning." Unlike Charleston, however, Richland County's new Plan will also dedicate large areas that can't be developed at all. It appears this may be accomplished by something they call overlay zoning - very restrictive zoning which they can place anywhere and supersede the existing zoning for any district.
We can't be sure how they'll do it because it's being kept a secret. We just know they're going to do it. In fact, no one in our County is being told how we will be rezoned or what our new restrictions will be until AFTER the zoning ordinance passes, when it's too late to do anything about it.
These Plans are about control greed. They are not about the environment. But ours does have a clear motive. Our Plan was specifically written to restrict minority growth. Besides providing for the clustered, mixed-use, and in-fill development in the city and urban fringes, and down-zoning the land outside it to worthlessness, our Plan also provides for development of one-square-mile densely-populated communes called villages in designated areas throughout the County that will be segregated by the economic status of the people who live in them. Each village is to have it's own schools, so that only those children can attend whose parents have similar economic backgrounds.
It's pure socialism.
The villages are to be of 3 kinds:
Upscale resort-like villages, called existing villages, because they already have existing infrastructure, will be for the wealthy;
Employment-based villages, which are like mill villages with an industry or other source of employment in the middle where everyone is encouraged to walk to work; and finally,
Non-employment based villages. Non-employment based villages will be remotely placed and have no employment opportunities. The Plan says we will only be allowed 7 villages in all 330 square miles of Lower Richland, all non-employment based, and all, like reservations, will be stuck out in the middle of nowhere. We know this because they're on the Plan map. They will be a place, it would seem, for the poor and the displaced not-so-poor to be hidden away after their land is taken from them.
In light of the fact that 65% of that 330 square miles that the county wants is currently owned by blacks in Richland County means that the village concept of this Plan, if carried to completion, will rival Nazi Germany in its social engineering, and at the very least, will result in gentrification and segregation. And if successful, I believe it will serve as a blueprint for the rest of the country where there is minority ownership of land.
We know, from statistics from the Plan, that our white population in Richland County is declining and will remain just about level in the future, while the minority population is flourishing. What better way to stop this trend than to restrict ALL growth in the county, knowing that it will mostly be minority growth, and then go after the blacks' land? Many of our African American families are land-rich and money-poor, having been there since slavery, and will be an easy target for this elitist land grab.
Ultimately, this Plan will make it possible for a very few individuals to control or own every piece of rural property in Richland County. And it won't cost them much.
This is no accident. A bonanza is at stake.
We are told that Lower Richland County is the largest mass of land that is primarily owned by African Americans on the East coast AND the largest contiguous mass of pristine farmland within a 15-minute drive of a state capitol or a major metropolitan city on the East coast. And it's not for sale.
Our land, which has been nurtured for generations, has made us a target simply because we HAVE been wonderful stewards. They're doing it now because their statistics show that most S.C. farmers, black and white, are now senior citizens. They want our land before we die and leave it to our heirs. By depriving the elderly farmer the value of his land through zoning, who may have nothing else to fall back on for retirement plan or emergencies, they could well force him to give it up before he dies, if he needs money.
By the way, this Plan is not just about Lower Richland County. There are other rural areas in the county that will face the same restrictions. But all of Lower Richland has been targeted as the "Congaree Preserve."
And this won't just hurt farmers. Home prices will be higher everywhere. Some people who once could afford a home on an acre of land will have to be subsidized in one of those non-employment-based reservations. The problem is compounded by the fact that, for the last two years in a row, Richland County Council has stunned us by passing the two largest property tax increases in history. I think it was intentional.
All of this will end the American dream.
As all this was happening, we realized that only a handful of people were aware of what was going on. The media wouldn't print it. So in 1999, six of us founded the Richland Landowners Association in order to educate our neighbors and to fight the implementation of this Plan. My husband sued the county on behalf of all rural property owners, and we dug our heels in. By 2000, we were devoting every spare moment to the cause. Instead of retiring to enjoy our farm, we retired in order to try to save it.
In 2001, we founded the SC Property Rights Watch in order to provide help for those who needed it in other parts of the state, and to distinguish ourselves from a group who had named themselves the SC Landowners Association, but who were not involved in our endeavors.
New members gave us new life. We didn't have any money, so we reached out through the churches, civic groups, or any other way we could. On the state level, we blocked three bills that would give control of our creeks, ponds, and wetlands and the land beside them to the state, and another that would give them our farms, statewide.
We held off, at least for now, the funding for the SC Conservation Bank Act, a bill that will give half a billion dollars of taxpayers' money to the Nature Conservancy and other trusts to grab our land. We kicked the American Farmland Trust clean out of SC. On the county level, we held up the writing of the specific zoning ordinances of the Town and Country Plan for four years and blocked the extension of the Interim ordinance, so that it expired two years ago without any ordinance to replace it.
Thinking that solved our problems, we were amazed when the County continued to enforce the Plan without any legal mechanism to do so, and, when our lawsuit finally made it to the SC Supreme Court, two years and $18,000 later, they ruled that our injunction against the Plan couldn't be addressed because we had defeated the ordinance to enforce it.
They're finally about to try to pass the new zoning in December, but instead of individual ordinances that we could address one at a time, they had consultants prepare a 300-page "uniform development code" which will fully implement the Town and Country Plan as a single ordinance, as well as restrict everything about our county, gestapo-like, including building codes, churches, business licenses, and morals.
It mandates what size your required front yard must be and how many, what size, and what variety of trees and shrubs will be required in your mandatory landscaped buffer zones in your front yard. It requires an 8 X 12 porch on each new home. It restricts signs and adequate parking, which will eliminate small businesses.
It dictates what you must do with your dog's waste when you take him for a walk, where you must park your car, and how new roads must be built to discourage using them with automobiles. It restricts the harvesting of trees. It provides for trails for the public on private property, especially on water. And it provides for preservation down-zoning.
Getting ready for all this, the County made Code Enforcement Officers, who had been under the Planning Department, into Deputy Sheriffs, so that we can now be arrested for digging a ditch on our own land and serve more time for it than for peddling dope.
This month, County Council raised our taxes on prepared foods another tax from 5% to 7% to provide money to the Conservation Commission, so they can get ready for the grab that the new preservation zoning will make possible for them.
The Commission conducted secret title searches, soil studies, and other evaluations, on our properties, so they WILL KNOW, before zoning, those of us who are THE MOST VULNERABLE. They know what we own because we paid millions of dollars to install a GIS system for them to use to spy on us. It's a satellite system to photograph us, our property, or anything else they want. It's Big Brother. They'll pick us out, zone us, swoop down on us, and once we cave in, they'll call us WILLING SELLERS.
And according to the ordinance enabling them, if the Conservation Commission ever wrestles your down-zoned property away from you, they can get the county to change the zoning back up on it, and then resell it.
Holders of conservation easements in SC can also swap properties among themselves, and if the holder of the easement ever becomes the owner of the title, the conservation easement goes away, and they can develop the land.
We're facing other problems, too. In Congress, Sen. Hollings and Rep. Clyburn of SC sponsored a bill to turn the Congaree Swamp National Monument thousands of acres of swampland on the Congaree River in Lower Richland County that are surrounded by thousands of acres of our land into a National Park and enlarge it. The Sierra Club applauds it.
Upon closer inspection, we learned that the Congaree Swamp is also a National Wilderness area, and that it was quietly made a United Nations Biosphere Reserve years ago. We discovered a map that is part of our state's Forest Legacy Program, which targets our land and land on the other side of the river beside the Swamp (in two more counties) as "buffer" and "critical habitat." We knew none of these things before.
We fear what the Park's influence will be on these projects and what other projects it will inspire or encourage. For sure, its creation will add the power of the federal government to our county's efforts, which we have held off thus far, to force land-use restrictions on us as the "Congaree Preserve."
We opposed the Park vigorously. Although Senator Hollings would not meet with us, 500 of us met with Congressman Clyburn and begged him not to do it. Nearly a thousand of us EACH wrote letters to our Congressmen and the Chairmen of the Congressional Committees and Subcommittees who deal with National Parks. A delegation of us traveled to Washington, DC, where Ms. Hattie Fruster, President of the Lower Richland NAACP, addressed the National Parks Subcommittee of the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Her moving testimony is available on-line at www.energy.senate.gov/hearings/witnesslist.cfm?id=943.
But this Senate Subcommittee was not allowed to respond to our pleas for help, nor was the House Subcommittee, because Senator Hollings had the Park and expansion added to the US Dept. of Interior's Appropriations Bill, and it was all over.
Meanwhile, Richland County Council is making it harder and harder for anyone to be heard there. They say a citizen can only speak once, for two minutes, on any issue, no matter how many times it's heard. Council often holds the public hearing before the ordinance is even available on it, so we can't speak intelligently about it. Decisions are being made illegally in secret meetings and on telephones.
Our members have been called liars, crazy, uneducated, and ignorant.
We're not. We have provided them with an alternate Plan years ago, one which respects reasonable planning and the environment, but which also protects the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.
They ignored us and told us to go away.
We didn't. So they have become increasingly more aggressive.
In an effort to intimidate us, Sheriff's Deputies have taken law-abiding citizens out of Council meetings just because they dare to sign up to speak out against the Plan or Conservation Commission.
We now have to go through a metal detector any time we try to attend County Council meetings. They say it's for "Homeland Security." If they want to protect our homeland security in Richland County, they need to concentrate on our government officials and their environmentalist buddies, not on our citizens.
In February, a Deputy manhandled the 72 year old President of the Lower Richland NAACP, because she was quietly voicing her concerns, having been called upon to speak.
In March, three Deputies attacked my 72-year-old husband from behind, after he, too, was called upon. He was not allowed to speak. Bill, who is partially blind and had just completed radiation therapy for cancer, was dragged from his seat by deputies, and when I begged them to let him go, they grabbed me too, twisting my arm behind me, tearing my elbow, shoulder, thumb, and back, and leaving huge bruises on me. I've had months of physical therapy.
We were set up. We had done nothing wrong.
Finally, in June, Godfather-style, a sniper shot one of our innocent, beautiful, beloved horses through the heart.
I'm hurting. But I'm not backing down. And neither are my friends.
WE WILL NOT NEGOTIATE with these People. If you do, they'll just take what you offer and come back a year later and take the rest. That's what they did in Charleston.
We will not be intimidated, and we will not give up.
We'll continue our fight here and in the many other counties in SC that are embroiled in their own battles. The Richland Landowners Association and the South Carolina Property Rights Watch will be there beside them too, for the long haul. And with you, too, anywhere in the country, if you need us.
We will share our message. We will go anywhere we can to tell our story, and we will continue to bring in speakers like you from other areas of the country who are fighting your own land grabs, to tell our people.
They can't keep this a secret any more. We know that we can't depend on the local media, except for a few radio stations and independent newspapers, but we are getting coverage national coverage FOX NEWS CHANNEL; Insight Magazine a great article entitled "Smart Growth Riles Black Farmers" on 9/16/02; Investor's Business Daily; Wall Street Journal, and we've appeared on radio talk shows all across the country.
We are fighting them at the polls, too. Some places are unseating these Marxists. Charleston County has already voted out three of theirs.
We have defeated their candidates for state Senate and Lt. Governor; and the new Secretary of Agriculture is on our side.
In Lower Richland, we have an unflinching supporter in Representative Joe Neal, the past Chairman of the black caucus of the entire SC legislature, and a staunch Democrat. Joe is traveling the country to spread the word.
We can't give up. I believe this is a greater threat to our safety, to the safety of our future generations, and to the future of our country than the threat of nuclear war.
WE HAVE COME TOGETHER TO FIGHT. YOUNG, OLD, BLACK, WHITE, LIBERAL AND CONSERVATIVE, FROM ALL POLITICAL PARTIES, AND AT ALL INCOME LEVELS
I believe WE WILL PREVAIL because of what we have in common. We care about OUR RIGHTS, OUR LAND, OUR FAMILIES, OUR GOD, and EACH OTHER.
For all their power and money, they don't have God.
This is still the land of the free. We must keep it that way. Thank you for having me. I'm looking forward to working with each of you.
God bless you and God bless America.
SC Property Rights Watch / Richland Landowners Association
P.O. Box 38
Eastover, SC 29044