The June 9, 2020 Republican Primary for Greenville County Council has a total of 7 candidates for districts 20, 21, and 22 and we asked these candidates questions important to our advocacy. District 20 is open with the retirement of Sid Cates. The candidates are Christy Cates Bright and Steve Shaw. District 21 has incumbent Council member Rick Roberts, and candidates Stacy Kuper and Chris Harrison. District 22 is open with the retirement of Bob Taylor. The candidates are Kenneth Cosgrove and Stan Tzouvelakas.
As a 501c3 non-profit we do not endorse candidates, we do this only to inform voters.
All seven candidates were invited to participate, and we are surprised that only two of the seven responded by our June 3rd publication date. We have been asking candidates questions about their views on safe biking and walking infrastructure since 2014 and this is the first time we have had this lack of answers. Once this blog and an email to our subscribers was published we did get four additional candidate responses to our questions.
- Greenville County has not had line items in the biennial budget for Swamp Rabbit Trail expansion. (The City of Greenville has prior to COVID-19 budgeted $1 MM a year for Greenway Trails, and their latest budget eliminates the $1MM for FY20-21 but suggests it continue for the next four fiscal years thereafter.) Will you support a budget of $1MM to $2MM a year for trail expansion projects including the Orange Line from Hampton Station to New Washington Heights, The expansion north to Slater- Marietta, and County portions of trail from CU-ICAR to Mauldin, Simpsonville and Fountain Inn.
- In 2013-14 Bike Walk Greenville help sponsor the Greenville County Safe Routes to School Recreation and Work Plan. 100 biking and walking projects from that plan were included in the 2014 penny sales tax referendum that was handily defeated. Six years later the needs identified in this plan are unfunded, or if funded by the GPATS long term transportation plan they are 20 or more years from construction. As a County Council member how can this funding shortfall be solved?
- County Land Development ordinances require sidewalks in new subdivisions, but fail to require private funding for sidewalks on existing roads that may easily connect to a school or business destination (say within ½ mile of the subdivision). How can funding such needed sidewalk connectivity be addressed by County Council?
District 20 Answers
Answers from Christy Cates Bright received on June 4, 2020:
- I am not familiar w/ this. If I am elected when this up I will thoroughly study this as w/ any issue.
- Again, I am not familiar w/ this. I will be careful to balance spending with needs based on county resources.
- I agree, in some areas it is needed. If elected I will look closely when this comes before council.
Answers from Steve Shaw received on June 5, 2020:
- Having my workplace right on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, I daily see the benefit of a safe and enjoyable walk or bike to the post office, stores, restaurants and other businesses. I also see the economic benefits it has brought. Safe walking corridors are an amenity that homeowners seek out and pay a premium for, and I will vigorously use my education, skills, and experience as a land use lawyer with a Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning to implement more walking corridors. However, as a small business owner and solo attorney who works for many small businesses, I also know the devastation that the Covid-19 government shut-downs have wreaked. As disappointing as it is, I cannot see asking the taxpayer to support $1MM a year to further develop our trail system. Walk-Bike trails are a strong attraction, but we must put all efforts immediately into relief to help the taxpayers with core government functions. Unfortunately, that will dim the near-future for funding anywhere close to this goal. As we get our legs economically after this crisis, I believe that the County needs to support expanding the trails. However, I will never be for an increase in taxes or fees but will look for ways to work within the existing general budget. I not only believe, I have seen with my own eyes that walkable corridors promote well-being, family recreation opportunity, connectivity, and a partial solution to road traffic. Solving transportation problems is a core government function, so trails fit in that way.
- I agree with the need for safe routes to work and school that don’t involve getting into an automobile and further congesting our roads. Again, having my workplace right on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, I daily see the benefit of a safe and enjoyable walk or bike to the post office, stores, restaurants and other businesses and view the trail as a key amenity. That being said, I do not support higher taxes or new fees toward that end. I will look for ways to reassign current spending from outdated or bloated county works, use public lands, partner with existing utilities (corridors over pipes, on rail beds, or under high tension lines), or explore conservation easements with private landowners. Council can provide the leadership, organization, expertise, support, and manpower/machines to support community groups like Bike Walk Greenville to achieve the goals of the GCSRSRWP, and I would be eager to begin that support right away.
- While walking the streets and roads in District 20 for my campaign, I realized that walking here is very dangerous. Many of the roads have absolutely no walking room at all. Even the roads that have some room have speeding cars going by. Most of the district is non-walkable for all intents and purposes. As I mentioned before, my philosophy is that lessening traffic and providing transportation is a core government function. Following, I am in favor of ordinances that, as a condition of medium to large developments, require the developer to provide walkable connectivity from the new development, next to existing roads, to existing (or proposed) walkable corridors.
District 21 Answers
Answers from Stacy Kuper received on May 28, 2020:
- Thank you for asking all the candidates to submit answers to such an important subject that significantly impacts a well planned community. Yes I would support the Budget for trail expansion projects. The Swamp Rabbit trail has had a positive impact for Greenville and is part of the reason that it is a very desirable place to live. I served on the GCEDC ( Greenville County Economic Development Corporation) which holds the train track right of ways that make up the Swamp Rabbit Trails therefore very familiar with this subject. In addition the Five Forks Area Plan committee which I serve on, has identified yet another way to link to the CU-ICAR part of the trail from the Pelham Mills Falls location. Obviously the money budgeted will not be enough so community collaboration and other opportunities for private donations and grants will be needed. I would advocate for a special committee that would work with the Council to make this a reality.
- My entire campaign is based on the premise that we cannot keep managing a County of this size and prosperity without enhancing our ability to leverage are own software to run predictive studies that will support proactive growth. The ability to run traffic studies and include the need of bike lanes and sidewalks where needed will be the only way to financially predict what the right budget for the future would need to be so that it accommodate the needs of a Twenty First Century community. There are many grants that will fund recreation health initiatives , with the creation of a committee that focuses on recreation this can happen. Having the ability to visually show future modeling and statistical budgets can empower council to budget without the need of additional tax money.
- I have been a long time advocate about the need for connectivity outside of a neighborhood and this has to be addressed. Schools are required to also have sidewalks all around and crosswalks but they are sidewalks to “nowhere”. As the county is looking at creating a new Uniform Code I want to be a voice to champion for additional code requirements for the more heavily populated areas. When the planning commission is looking to approve a new development these items should be part of the approval process nit just a reference document and should include adequate sidewalks, connectivity, traffic studies, sewage studies and parking where it applies. The county owning their own software that overlays over the GIS system would enable the county to require these studies (charge a fee) and show a developer exactly what their portion of the cost would be to include sidewalks and any road improvements needed to support new development.My motto is: Responsible and Planned Growth puts the burden of improvements on the Developers and Tax Payers but increases the value of real property. Chaotic growth puts all the burden on the Tax Payer and eventually reduces the value of real property
Answers received from Rick Roberts on June 5, 2020:
- We have just started the process of approving bonds to be used by parks and recreation, and that’s who we use mostly for overseeing the trails in the county, and our 30 plus parks. We have ongoing expenses regarding maintaining the park infrastructure that we currently have to address, before committing to additional development. By all means I have seen the trail become a huge benefit to our community, to the people who visit Greenville, and to public health. I do not support raising tax revenues, but prefer to work within the existing budget. I am interested in extending the Swamp Rabbit to our district, and working with private partnerships to help make it a reality.
- There’s no easy answer to this question. We have a very tight budget that we pass every 2 years. I wish there was a magic wand to get those funds. There is one resolution we are working on with local and state legislators to bring back some state tax funds to Greenville County in combination with matching county funds. Secondly, we’ve added that if you build new neighborhoods and developments in Greenville County, you must install sidewalks, which going forward will provide connections. One recent project we’ve done with general community funds was to build sidewalks in the Riverside and River Oaks areas. That was a small project, but to do some other larger projects we are meeting to look at using C-funds to make more room in the budget to create safe spaces for biking and walking in our community.
- What we’ve always struggled with, and will likely continue to, is balancing needs versus wants. Needs are if we have crumbling roads already, we cannot ignore those problems while moving on to the next project. From a practical standpoint, we want connectivity, but it will require funding. We have looked at giving more responsibility to private developers, but are concerned that a cost increase could be passed down to home buyers. We have to balance budget constraints with the need to connect these neighborhoods. We may be able to find ways to increase revenues stemming from new developments, and one part of the infrastructure would be sidewalks, along with repaving, sewer and other infrastructure needs.
Answers received from Chris Harrison on June 5, 2020:
- My short answer is yes. I would be in favor of expanding the SRT. I think the Swamp Rabbit has been great for our community and has brought a lot of positive attention, attraction and investment to the area, so I am supportive of potentially expanding that. I will say that from a budget standpoint, obviously the budget is a hot button item, so it is tough to fully commit to a specific number right now, especially with the current environment we are in from an economic standpoint. I can say I am fully supportive of expanding the Swamp Rabbit; I would like to hold off on a specific budget talk until we see how things shake out. I do think there are some areas where we can decrease spending and have some room in the budget for these types of efforts. In the current climate, it is difficult to put an exact number on it; I want to make sure businesses are healthy and people have food to put on the table, but I would definitely support the idea of expanding the Swamp Rabbit Trail.
- Great question. So I am familiar with the Safe Routes to School program; I was actually on the Greenville County planning staff years ago, and we actually did some work on the Safe Routes to School plans, so I am very familiar with this great initiative. Like we have talked about, budget seems to always be the hurdle in the way of good plans and good efforts. The budget shortfall is the difficulty, and I hate to keep using this reason, but especially in the current time frame, budget talks are going to be very tight right now, especially with everything we have going on. Planning is my background, I think this is a great initiative and effort that needs to be looked at very hard. Being on the planning commission for the last four years, I have seen instances where we do need additional routes not only to schools, but also that we add connectivity to other community areas, including sidewalks and other walkable solutions. I think it’s an important initiative, but it’s very difficult to have detailed budget discussions to determine where the shortfall solution would come from, at this point since many things could change in the short term. I do think there are some opportunities to shrink or adjust the budget to make room for things like this.
- That’s a good question. There is a solution, however it’s not a simple answer and involves a larger process. The short answer, in terms of the tools that Council has, would be in the land development regulations. They were just updated not too long ago, but they would be the tool to accomplish something like this from a Council perspective. The sidewalk issue is a difficult one, I do know that sidewalks are required for new development within half a mile of a school. However, I’ve seen a lot of instances where the sidewalks constructed do not connect to other developments and lead to nowhere, and we don’t want that. We have to take a long hard look from a planning perspective and find places where we can collaborate. We can’t fully rely on the private sector to fully fund all of the necessary infrastructure. They need to be a part of the solution, but requiring retrofitting of existing roads is a tough conversation to have. While some ideas are good, they all are not practical. We have to start moving in the right direction with common sense practical solutions. I think having detailed conversations on solutions is key. Also, partnerships: we need to create an environment where its easy for the county, and community organizations to strategically partner with businesses and private entities to invest in sidewalks on existing roads to improve connectivity. Having volunteered on the Planning Commission for the past 4 years, I’ve seen firsthand the issues and how there is no easy fix for it. You have to have practical ideas and know how things are going to get paid for. There has to be a balance between having strict requirements and encouraging development in our area. There’s a lot of other factors at play, but an open line of communication and creating partnerships with local organizations and other entities will help us find viable solutions for improving connectivity.
District 22 Answers
Answers from Kenneth Cosgrove received on May 28, 2020:
Thanks for emailing me and giving me the opportunity to correspond. Unfortunately due to Covid I’d be very hesitant to make any commitments to financial support on these kind of concepts (or frankly much of anything!). If we can get through this dip which I generally hope to be a one or two revenue decline and get back to positive numbers then I would love to brainstorm on how to improve connectivity. Honestly its not something I am extremely informed on and if elected I would love to get some time with you guys and teach me more about the topic.
I know that’s probably not the answers you were hoping for but this is a crazy year and I’m concerned the budget is going to be extremely tight. In any case, I wanted to be upfront with you. I’d be honored by your groups consideration for vote. I would love to chat further with you or anyone in your group residing in D22.
Mr. Tzouvelekas did not respond.
In the November general election, the District 20 winner will face Democrat Farris Steele Johnson. The District 21 winner faces no Democratic opposition. The District 22 winner faces Democrat Samantha Wallace.