Signs show growing concern about development in Laurens County

Laurens County neighbors describe being ‘railroaded’ by new development, possible rail line
We're taking a look at the developments and why some neighbors aren't a fan of them
Published: May. 16, 2022 at 9:40 PM EDT
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LAURENS COUNTY, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - Concerns about the ever-changing landscape have become more evident in rural areas of Laurens County. Over the past week, a growing number of neighbors have posted signs pleading for support to save farmland from vanishing.

Susan Stewart started the sign campaign in response to new neighborhood developments that will bring hundreds of new homes to the Fountain Inn area. Stewart’s home sits on property designated as a South Carolina Century Farm, which was started by Robert and Rachel Stewart in 1844.

Robert and Rachel Stewart started the Laurens County farm in 1844 that remains in operation in...
Robert and Rachel Stewart started the Laurens County farm in 1844 that remains in operation in 2022(Susan Stewart)

“It’s all happening very rapidly. It comes as a surprise to us,” Stewart told FOX Carolina. “They’re losing pastureland They’re losing ability to harvest hay for their cattle.”

Concerns have also intensified because some neighbors have received letters from Williams & Walsh, a Charleston-based law firm, notifying them that their properties fall along the preferred route of three proposals for a high-speed passenger rail line that would run from Atlanta to Charlotte with a stop in Greenville. In the letter, an attorney offered landowners help negotiating higher compensation in the event that the government seizes their property through eminent domain for the project.

Stewart said the preferred route would run right in front of the Stewart family homeplace and pastureland for her relatives who are full-time beef producers. While Stewart said she actually supports transportation like high-speed passenger trains, she can’t embrace this particular project.

“Can you imagine a 220-mile-an-hour train running through these rural historic green spaces in Laurens County? It horrifies me,” Stewart said.

FOX Carolina has reached out to Williams & Walsh, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Georgia Department of Transportation about the status and timeline of the proposal but no one has responded.

Laurens County Planning Commissioner Ed Burns said he doesn’t think it is necessary to advise developers about the proposed rail route when their proposed projects would fall within close proximity.

“They’ve been talking about this rail system for 15 years,” Burns said. “We don’t pay it any attention.”

Laurens County Councilman Kemp Younts said he first learned about the proposed rail line when his son received a notice from the Charleston law firm about a month ago. He said he doesn’t think it’s necessary to advise future residents about the possibility of a train running close to future neighborhoods.

“If these developers dot their I’s and cross their T’s, there’s not much the county can do as far as stopping them,” Younts said, referring to the county’s lack of zoning.

Stewart reached out to Rep. Stewart Jones, of South Carolina House District 14, and invited him to her property on Sunday. Like Stewart, Jones is a descendant of Robert and Rachel Stewart.

Rep. Stewart Jones, of SC House District 14, visits the current-day Stewart farm where a...
Rep. Stewart Jones, of SC House District 14, visits the current-day Stewart farm where a proposed high-speed passenger rail line would locate(Susan Stewart)

Stewart said he is working on several ways at the state level to “halt this detrimental development and protect private property.”

“At a time when fertilizer and food are through the roof due to inflation and supply chain issues, this railway would destroy a number of farms. With less farms, we someday won’t be able to feed ourselves,” Jones told FOX Carolina. “South Carolina must stop this tragedy from happening. We must ensure that private property is protected - especially our farmland.”