Residents speak out about enforcement of city ordinances, rezoning, and other issues at the city council meeting

Live stream recording of City of Easley council meeting on April 10, 2023

After the opening invocation from Pastor Regina Webb and the Pledge of Allegiance, Mayor Butch Womack started the meeting.  

The council members went around the table with news in their wards

Ward 1 – Brian Garrison mentioned the cancellation of Spring Fling and promoted the Farmers Market that begins May 13th.

Ward 2 – Denise Davidson presented to the clerk and Mayor a request for financial information and noted a continued lack of response. Please refer to this previous article on this ongoing situation.

Ward 3- Pat Webb thanked folks for coming to a golf tournament to fund Miss Easley’s attempt to be Miss South Carolina.

Ward 5- Nancy Breazale had no report.

Ward 6 – Jim Robinson welcomed Sam Norris and was glad he was healthy enough to be at the meeting.

Next, Mr. Womack opened up the floor to citizens wishing to address the City Council. Every speech is included at the end of the article.  Highlights of include:

  • Significant and ongoing water damage to Shepard residence in Jim Robinson’s district, which the city has said they would fix two years ago, and have not.  
  • Stories of previous zoning issues that resulted in deceit and overcrowding in Nancy Brazeale’s district.  
  • A reading of current zoning ordinances that have been routinely ignored, such as no clear cutting and ensuring safe and convenient traffic control and movement.
  • Multiple requests asking for transparency in finances and governance.
  • The question of why does the Building Official also hold the title of Acting Assistant Administrator.  With the growth in Easley, the position should be filled, especially as there is no code enforcement of current City of Easley ordinances.
  • Two specific ordinances that were mentioned were the requirement to have two entrances to subdivisions with 50 + homes, and a left turn lane for subdivisions with 85 + homes- these requirements have been ignored in named subdivisions in the city of Easley.  Please read below for specifics.

On updates on city activity, Tommy Holcombe, the acting Administrator, reminded folks that today early voting began and runs through Friday April 21st at the Pickens County Registration Office.  On April 25th, the polls will be open from 7am to 7pm at Easley Union Baptist Church, 5 Point Church, and Calvary Hill Baptist Church.  David Jones and Gene Patterson are the candidates running for Easley City Council in Ward 4.

The meeting moved on to unfinished business, the second reading of ordinance 2023-05. This ordinance is to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the Municipal Association of SC to continue to collect the following revenues:  Insurance Tax, Broker’s Tax, and Telecommunications Tax.  The acting Administrator said it was a continuation of an agreement the city has had for many years.  He said it was due to a name change and it was approved last month.  They are looking for a second reading because there is a deadline in May.  Womack, Garrison, Webb, Breazeale, and Robinson were in favor.  Davidson was opposed.

Item 9 on the agenda was new business and the first reading of 2 ordinances.  

A first reading of ordinance 2023-6, to rezone approximately 1.34 acres of real property located at 501 S. E Street, Easley, SC, Pickens County, Tax map number 5029-14-43-1659, from Residential (R-10) to General Residential (GR-2). 

Holcombe reminded the City Council that the Planning Commission met on March 20th and denied the request.  If it was approved tonight, it goes to second reading.  If denied, it is dead.  Nancy Breazeale said it was in her district and she heard from residents.  She agreed that she didn’t want the same thing to happen as what happened last time to the residents of Stewart and Burns.  She will vote no.  Pat Webb, Brian Garrison, agreed.  As a general rule, Jim Robinson doesn’t vote against properties on first readings.  Robinson voted in favor.  Rest voted against.  

This was the vote that many came to address tonight- please read about the situation below.  

A first reading of ordinance 2023-07 to rezone approximately 1.35 acres of real property located at 109 Brushy Creek Road, Easley, SC Pickens County, Tax map number 5029-18-40-9337, from Office Institutional (OI) to Neighborhood Commercial (NC).  

According to the acting Administrator, both of these are light commercial that allow different things in it.  Planning commission heard this on March 20th and they approved it.  First reading is tonight if it passes it goes to second reading next month.  

Pat Webb said that Neighborhood Commercial and OI are both considered transitional zoning.  Looking at a transition of the high intensity from Publix going back to residential, both are for transitional use without much difference in intensity.  She said it would be hard to get a turning lane there. The SCDOT will be in charge of deciding what turn lane and how the entrance is done, and they will not be able to access Brushy Creek if SCDOT does not give them that entrance point. Davidson voted against, the rest voted in favor.  

The last item on the agenda addressed  Resolution 2023-04 to accept the bid for construction to a section of the Brushy Creek Greenway Trail and award the contract to Foothills Contracting Service LLC.

Officials spoke saying that this project would connect JB Owens to Pearson Road.  These would be ARPA funds (American Rescue Plan).  

Denise Davidson mentioned how since these are ARPA funds and many people have come to city council meetings speaking of water damage due to runoff and stormwater the funds should be used there.  Per Davidson, ARPA money was meant to support infrastructure.  If we were in a fantastic financial time, she would be behind the project, but hearing from people that communicate with her and those that speak at City Council, the funds should be used to fix long standing issues. 

City officials were making the case that this project is to create alternative forms of transportation.  Brian Garrison has been frustrated at the stops over the years, and he is excited to see this progress and move forward.  He said that the funds have been allocated in their budget from last year.  He would like to see future money from ARPA go to stormwater and infrastructure.  In the vote, Davidson was opposed, and the rest voted in favor.  

This was the conclusion of the meeting.

See the meeting agenda here.

See the meeting packet here.

Citizens that were heard at City Council:

First to speak was Avannah Shepard Lewis representing her parents Louis and Shirley Shepard and their on-going water issue on the corner of Forest and Robinall Drive in District 6, represented by Jim Robinson.

Per Ms. Shepard Lewis, she sent the council and the mayor an email with a video to show the issue.  Her parents have been property owners for over 50 years, and 2 years ago, a neighbor had a water issue which the city fixed.  Now all the water is going on her parents’ vacant but buildable property.  The city of Easley asked for permission to clean out what the city said was a drainage easement on their property.  Her parents agreed to allow the work, under the condition that the Shepards would be easily able to maintain what the city claimed was a drainage easement.  They now know that the drainage easement is nothing more than a ditch and the water runs straight across the property.  During the process of digging the ditch to add insult to injury, a hole was left and the family dog escaped, and a fig tree died.  The city said they would come back to fix it, but now, the funds are frozen.  

While her parents are waiting, she did some research and found out that the newly dug ditch across the property is not supposed to be there in the first place, it’s supposed to be across the property line, not across the property.  For the next nine months, this family has been trying to get the city to fix the issue that they created.  In the meantime, a new house goes up across the street, and the Shepards were thinking of renovating, but they can’t because they have a river running through the yard and don’t want materials to wash away.  

Every phone call or meeting with the city, they are told that it’s going to be on the agenda for the next meeting but it’s an expensive repair and the city is waiting for funds to come in.  Seasons are clicking by, not to mention inflation, and the ditch is still there.  She asked the city council what they would do if it were their property, their investment, how would you want the situation to be handled?  She said that they’ve been patient and understanding but enough is enough.  Phone calls, emails, and meetings have gotten their family nowhere.  She is asking the city to do the right thing and please properly repair the mess that the city created on her parents property.

Next up was a representative of the Foothills Playhouse.  They will be having a benefit concert to buy a new sign and improve lighting.  They’ve done 12 performances this year.  Nine sold out and 3 were at 75% capacity.  There have been parking issues with the nearby Silos, and overcrowding due to the success of both venues and limited roads and parking areas there.  Folks come from as far as Asheville, Hendersonville, and Walhalla bringing new visitors to the City of Easley.  Thank you to the city for repairs.

Clova Vaughn, resident of East 2nd Avenue, has lived there for 40+ years and raised her family there.  She was there to ask the City Council to accept the Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny the rezoning request for Avenue E and Grigsby Avenue.  Her concern was the eating away at Easley’s core, the city residences, and destroying the neighborhoods with long history here.  With all of the recent apartments allowed at the old Getty’s Middle School, and those on Burns Avenue across from the library, the city’s infrastructure is already impacted here.  When all of these units are at full capacity, the cost to the city will escalate due to the extra usage of the sewer, the water, traffic, and the extra policing that’s going to be needed. 

 As local taxpayers and residents, she said, we will be burdened with this extra load.  Once a property is allowed to change from single family then in the future, anything can be built.  Not just what is now being requested.  She agrees that it needs cleaning up.  It was once a nice house with a pretty yard.  Mr. Amet who inherited the property doesn’t live at that address and he doesn’t plan to.  He has mentioned seeking funds for his plans, and that sends up red flags for what may actually be the future for that place.  There’s always going to be change but at this particular time, you all hold the quality of Easley’s future in your hands.  Please don’t discount the value of home owning residents in the heart of the city and vote no for the rezoning.

Lathea Parker lives on the corner of Stewart Drive and she represents the residents of Stewart Drive and Burns Avenue.  She said she knows from experience at Stewart Drive and Burns Avenue that once a property is rezoned the owner can do whatever he wishes with it.  Even build apartments instead of townhomes, and there is no guarantee.  

This is exactly what happened to residents of Stewart Drive and Burns Avenue.  The late Mr. Jim Gregory had 4 acres of land at Burns Avenue with a for sale sign and a picture with four nice Charleston-looking townhomes and he needed the property to be rezoned.  The residents took him at his word because they had fought him one other time because he wanted to put Publix where the Public Library is today.  They fought that, and won that with the rezoning.  They didn’t fight Mr. Gregory on rezoning because he gave them his word he was going to build townhouses, and now there are 60 units of apartments known as CreekSide Apartments.  

Within a half mile radius of Stewart Drive, they have 224 units at the Farmhouse of Easley which faces Stewart Drive, 60 units named the Creek Side on Burns Avenue which are not filled yet, 32 units called Charlestown Apartments, and  40 units known as East Terraced Apartments.  That’s 356 apartments in a half mile radius.  Part of Grigsby Avenue, even has Woodlawn Apartments that doesn’t even factor into this.  

She asked how they think all these folks, plus the current residents, get to highway 123?  Most take Stewart Drive.  Counting two cars per residence, that’s a lot of traffic.  Her husband was reminded many many times by the mayor that it’s a state road and the mayor can’t do anything about it.  But Burns Avenue, Grigsby Avenue, South E street, Bowen Avenue are city streets, and traffic is going to get worse.  Right before her final statement, she got cut off due to time.  

Next, Anne Loftis read through the zoning ordinances and has concerns about them.  She wants to know why there is no zoning designation for preservation of natural areas, why are they only for the development of land?  In the first section of the zoning ordinance, it states that zoning will provide for the protection and preservation of agriculture, forests, and other environmentally sensitive lands, thereby preserving the cultural and natural heritage of the city of Easley.  

Later in the 120 page document, there is a declaration that there will be no clear cutting of forests in preparation for the development of land, and that we are to seek other means besides clear cutting.  Which is all she has seen all over the city right now- clear cutting, which other folks have spoken about also.  

Her second question is most of the through roads in this town are not city controlled, however the majority are two lane roads.  Why are you planning more and more multi residential GR2 Zones when our roads are already overloaded and becoming more and more dangerous?  This is also in the zoning ordinance on page 5, the purpose of the guidelines are to ensure safe and convenient traffic control and movement, including a reduction or prevention of congestion of public streets, convenience of access, multiple modes of transportation and an interconnected and well planned street system.  

“Please consider your own documents when looking at zoning and annexations,“ she implored.

Jamie Moore spoke as a concerned citizen of Sheriff Mill and Highway 8 area in Easley.  She does not want any more houses added to any part of Pickens County.  She said we need a moratorium just like the county to prepare the infrastructure for future growth.  She asked to please at least propose it.  

“People all over Easley are very angry that you do not listen to us, when you were elected to promote our safety and public health.  What about your oath?  Many people in this area are concerned that laws and regulations are not being followed, bending, or outright ignoring these regulations to cram as many houses as you can get into each development.  We want transparency and participation in the way the elected officials of the City of Easley are conducting business.  The public has a right to know where their tax money goes.  Robinson, you are a lawyer.  Is it not a conflict of interest that for you to be working with the builder when you were elected to protect people?”

Dawn Crooks asked that the council and mayor really look at the almost 2000 people that have signed the petition and remember that these people are residents of Easley in the county, outside the city limits, but who would like you to consider their voice when you are deciding on the annexation.  

That said, when you do drive around town to all the new subdivisions there are several ordinances that are being violated.  What department is enforcing code violations or ordinance violations?  Is there a building official in charge that can be called to report this?  She noted that according to the City’s own ordinances, if there are 50+ homes, there should be two entrances, we aren’t seeing that anywhere in the city.  If there are 80 + houses, there is supposed to be a left turning lane according to the SCDOT, that didn’t happen off of Lenhardt Grove that the city built and there are over 200 homes there.  

“How can you say that the city ordinances are better than the county ordinances when you are not even using them?  You keep repetitively telling us city ordinances are better than county ordinances.  All we are asking at Sheriff Mill Road is that you consider the fact that if this subdivision is going to be built, then let it be built in the county.  Then we can fight the people that represent us.”

There are several things that have come up over time.  One thing is that the city doesn’t have a city administrator.  Is there a city administrator application that you are taking and if so, how many applications are being accepted, when will that position be filled?  Because the growth within Easley needs to have a dedicated City Administrator.  

She also noticed that the current Acting Assistant City Administrator is also the acting Building Official?  If that is correct, then how are all these ordinances being followed if the Building Administrator is also the City Administrator? 

At the Indigo Park subdivision there are no sidewalks. That subdivision is terrible. If you drive a car through there you can barely get through, so how would a fire truck get through?  

Jessica Massey offered to let her teacher Ms. Parker have part of her time to finish her talk. But Mr. Womack and Mr. Holcombe said they “don’t yield time”. Ms. Massey explained that Ms. Parker was her math teacher in middle school, and she was going to try to read the rest of her statement but joked that she couldn’t read her handwriting.  

Jessica Massey is a County resident that also lives in Easley.  She reminded the council and mayor that they are elected officials and have a responsibility to listen to residents, not to be dismissive, and don’t get to choose who you want to give your full attention to based on whether they agree with you or not.  

“When you hear the same message repeatedly, it’s not time to tune it out.  It should move you into more careful consideration of the topic.  It has become evident that we have a divisive issue before us with annexation.  What steps are you taking to listen to and work with concerned citizens to reach a solution?” 

“As a piggy back to annexation concerns, many of us have serious concerns about the lack of transparency on city finances.  I would like to add my name to the list of citizens who are vocalizing our interest in seeing the already submitted FOIAs answered and made available to the public.  I am a proud citizen of Easley, I am a Green Wave alumni, I am a fourth generation farmer on Lenhardt, I care about preserving the character and community and seeing our growth happen in a sustainable manner.  I care about working together to reach a solution to each of the issues you’ve heard tonight.  Please take seriously the responsibility that you have in shaping our community and the decision making power you wield,” she finished.