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Keep the Official Zoning Map Updated

The South Carolina Comprehensive Planning Act allows local planning commissions to prepare and recommend — and local elected councils to approve — “zoning ordinances to include zoning district maps and appropriate revisions thereof” within a city or town. 

In other words, the official zoning map shows the correct zoning designation of all parcels in a municipality. Interested parties consult the official zoning map to make land use decisions for such parcels.

In practice, cities and towns often make incremental amendments to their zoning ordinance without systematically conforming the official zoning map to such amendments, but they should keep the map up to date.

Zoning amendments 
Zoning ordinances, as established in the South Carolina Comprehensive Planning Act, are to be prepared by local planning commissions and recommended to local elected councils for approval. This includes the “zoning district maps and appropriate revisions thereof.” 

The zoning ordinance usually comprises

  • a regulatory section that establishes the permitted uses, conditional uses and other conditions of development within designated zoning districts; and
  • a map that divides all parcels into these zoning districts.
By consulting the map, a resident or developer should be able to determine what land use may be made of any given parcel.

Amendments to the zoning ordinance fall into two categories:

  • Text amendments, which amend the regulatory section of the zoning ordinance. For example, a text amendment might add a permitted use to a zoning designation.
  • Map amendments, which change the zoning designation of one or more parcels without changing the applicable regulatory text. Map amendments usually result from individual requests that a parcel be rezoned.
The Act requires that text and map amendments follow the same procedure used for the original approval of a zoning ordinance.

Updating the map
Often, the planning department is the custodian of the official zoning map. When a city or town approves map amendments without updating the official zoning map to conform, the map can become inaccurate. The language of the Act does not state the way that officials should keep their maps updated as these changes come along, but they do need to make updates to keep the map current and reliable. 

The law spells out the way for councils to pass map amendments, but does not require a specific procedure to formally update the official zoning map, so different municipalities handle official zoning map updates differently.  

Municipalities handle map updates in different ways. Some follow a policy of making amendments to the official zoning map each time the council passes a map amendment ordinance. Others handle the map amendment and the update to the official zoning map as separate ordinances, and the council passes both at the same time. Finally, some approve map amendments without any specific reference to the official zoning map, leaving official zoning map updates to happen when council chooses to take this action. 

The official zoning map always needs to reflect the current zoning designations of every parcel. Ideally, the municipality would update and republish the official zoning map each time a map amendment ordinance occurs in one of two ways:

  • including the update to the official zoning map in the ordinance approving the map amendment, or 
  • adopting a separate ordinance updating the official zoning map.
Some municipalities lack the resources to update and republish the official zoning map every time a map amendment occurs. For these, the Municipal Association of SC suggests a periodic update and republication, happening on a regular schedule to prevent the map from falling out of date.

This process is similar to making regular updates of the local code of ordinances. Municipalities do not republish their code of ordinances every time they enact a new ordinance, but they do conduct recodification periodically to ensure that all local ordinances are included in the published code of ordinances.