Mark Farris objected last year when a subdivision developer sought to change the zoning classification of a property in southern Greenville County from industrial to residential.
Farris is president of the Greenville Area Development Corp., Greenville County’s economic development organization. The way he sees it, he can’t persuade companies to build new factories in the county if there aren’t any good places to put those factories.
The property he wanted to retain as a possible factory site is served by water and sewer and is located about half a mile from the Southern Connector near Michelin’s U.S. 1 tire factory.
As it turned out, Greenville County Council voted to rezone the 180 acres anyway, setting aside not only Farris’ objection but also the recommendation of county planners to keep the property classified for industrial use.
For Farris, it was a temporary setback. He’s continuing to prompt county officials to hold onto what he calls “jobs-producing property.”
Now he’s proposing the creation of a new fund that the county would use to join with private-sector partners in developing new industrial parks or so-called “speculative” industrial buildings.
The proposed “Product Development Fund” could also be used to pay for roads, utility service or other “infrastructure” needed by a company to launch a new operation in the county or to expand an existing one, according to a white paper Farris wrote.
“Available funding would be provided through contributions of public or private groups dedicated to the creation of new jobs and capital investment for Greenville County,” he said in the white paper.
Farris said the fund might also be used to develop office buildings on a speculative basis.
He contends the county could suffer over the long term if it allows too much of its industrial property to be absorbed by residential construction.
That’s because residential development doesn’t generate enough property tax revenue to pay for the additional government services it makes necessary, such as as new schools or extra sheriff’s deputies, he says.
Industrial development, on the other hand, pays for itself — and more.
“All I’m advocating for is an appropriate balance,” said Farris, who has a master’s degree in urban planning from Clemson University.
Farris says Greenville County is already at a disadvantage compared to Spartanburg and Anderson counties when it comes to recruiting industry because those counties have more industrial land fronting or close to Interstate 85.
He isn’t recommending exactly how to generate the public-sector contributions to the fund, saying he’ll leave that to members of County Council if they decide to proceed with the idea.
His plan does call for the fund to be self-perpetuating, with proceeds from the sale of property developed through the fund put back into the fund to be available for future deals.
The GADC board is expected to decide on Feb. 1 whether to recommend the idea to County Council.
County Council Chairman Butch Kirven, a member of the GADC board, said he expects the idea to be “very well received” by County Council if the GADC board votes unanimously to recommend it.
“We don’t want to get into a situation where Greenville County becomes a bedroom community and all the jobs are going elsewhere,” Kirven said. “Because that would put a tax burden on the homeowners.”
Regarding the rezoning that Farris objected to, Kirven said the property “would have made a wonderful industrial site.”
But the family that owned it “was in a situation where they needed to sell the land and the buyer who was standing there to write a check was a subdivision developer. … It was hard to turn the family down.”
GADC’s main supply of sites for new factories now is the Augusta Grove industrial park along U.S. 25 in southern Greenville County.
That park was developed by the county in the late 1990s and owned and operated by the county until last year when the remaining 709 undeveloped acres were bought by a joint venture of the county and various private-sector investors, including TPA Group of Atlanta. The county retains a 40 percent stake.
Farris said he’s glad to be able to market Augusta Grove — and a 331,850-square-foot “spec” building that TPA Group and partners are constructing there — but the county needs more industrial sites to meet today’s demand, as well as tomorrow’s.
“This process is about 2030. It’s not about 2017,” Farris said. “It’s about making sure that we’ve got an inventory of property so we can continue having good years.”