Harbison Community Association

The Harbison Community – Its Beginnings

The name Harbison honors Samuel P. Harbison, a Presbyterian philanthropist who invested heavily in the late 1800s to improve educational opportunities for freed slaves in South Carolina. A school bearing Mr. Harbison’s name was moved from Abbeville, South Carolina, to property acquired near Irmo in 1911. This property became the nucleus of the approximately 1800 acres on which the Harbison community is being developed. The property was conveyed to the Harbison Development Corporation, a non-profit venture, in 1974 by the Presbyterian Board of National Missions, which had assumed control in 1940.

The impetus to develop the community was provided by the New Communities Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program was designed to facilitate public and private efforts to develop planned environmentally sound, diverse communities that would provide opportunities to live, work, p lay, and learn within the community. According to an environmental impact report issued by HUD, Harbison was to an integrated land use community that would provide “…housing types for all incomes, employment acreage, shopping areas, schools, playgrounds and a community center.”

To that end and reflecting its roots in the Presbyterian Church’s efforts to use the land for socially relevant ends, Harbison was conceived as a unique example of an economically, socially, racially, and age-group integrated community.
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A Planned Development

To achieve those goals, Harbison was designed as a planned unit development (PUD). As the term “PUD” implies, this meant determining land uses, and how much land to be apportioned to each use configured. A team of nationally prominent architects, planners, engineers, economists, real estate analyst and legal consultants was assigned to the task of developing the Harbison Plan.

Some features of the Harbison plan include

  • A pathway system that connects every section of Harbison – Attention was even given to the width (eight feet) of the pathways that wind through wooded areas to allow for wheelchairs and bicycles as well as walkers. Approximately 11 miles of the proposed 14 miles of pathways currently are completed. Of particular significance is the fact that these pathways go under most major roads in Harbison and over Interstate 26, meaning a child or adult never has to cross a busy thoroughfare to go from one section of Harbison to another.
  • Open recreational areas around each lake for community use rather than limiting use to a handful of property owners with lake frontage.
  • Three interstate interchanges to facilitate easy access to every section of the community.

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A Wide Variety Of Housing

The plan calls for a mix of residential uses to encourage a broad range of housing types including single family, duplex, cluster, townhomes, and apartments. The housing spectrum also includes government-subsidized facilities for the elderly and handicapped. A person literally can move through the “housing life cycle” in Harbison – from small apartment to starter house to retirement condominium or even to an assisted living facility.

Harbison is different from most planned communities in that it incorporates a much broader scope of land uses. Harbison was designed to be the primary shopping and commercial center for Columbia’s northwest quadrant. To that end, land was set aside for office buildings, institutional and light industrial uses, and service facilities in addition to residential and recreational facilities.

As stated in the original Project Agreement describing the manner in which Harbison would be developed and issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the plan” may from time to time be amended as a result of changes in market demand, employment patterns costs and revenues or other factors or conditions.” Areas designated for individual housing sites may be assigned a different use, for example, if the residential parcel is impacted by significant changes to an adjacent roadway and the development of nearby non-Harbison property.

Since it was developed, the Harbison plan has undergone only minimal changes. The site originally designated for a school was changed when the school district decided the location was too close to schools already built. Multi-family housing originally planned for Harbison Blvd. was relocated when that area of Harbison Blvd. became more suitable as part of the community’s retail/commercial center.
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Zoning In Harbison

The Harbison plan specifies the general use for the land, such as multi-family housing, commercial, institutional or greenways. The specific use (such as duplex housing, gasoline service station, restaurant or food store) of a particular piece of property is controlled by the zoning designation established by the governmental body (Town of Irmo, City of Columbia, etc.) in whose jurisdiction the property is located. Should The Harbison Group (the owner of the remaining undeveloped land in Harbison) wish to change the general land use designation of a particular tract, the organization must submit a request for approval to the appropriate government agency.
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Community Amenities

Consistent with the original idea to create a community that would offer all of the basic activities and facilities normally associated with a town, Harbison offers a broad range of amenities, including two lakes. The pathways weave through approximately 200 acres preserved in their undeveloped natural state. Interspersed throughout these common property areas are playgrounds for Harbison children. Picnic areas also are located in these natural settings.

Two 4-court tennis complexes, an outdoor basketball court, a tennis practice wall, ball fields, and a large Recreation Center offer residents a myriad of activity options. The Recreation Center houses a year-round junior Olympic pool, a sauna, a whirlpool, racquetball courts, a weight room/exercise center and meeting rooms.

The decision was made early in Harbison’s history to make available a variety of programs for residents. These include the After School Experience for school children through the sixth grade, a full day summer camp for children entering first grade through 12 years of age, an adult volleyball league, karate instruction, soccer, both regular and water aerobics, and T-ball. A typical quarterly schedule lists over 30 different programs.

Since the population in Harbison is not sufficient to support program options this extensive, programs are open to non -residents at higher fees. Residents are given enrollment preference, of course. This system is designed to ensure that Harbison residents have access to a variety of recreational and educational opportunities without having to leave the community.

Although operating independently of the Association, a nationally recognized swim team and an Adlerian Child Care Center also are available to Harbison residents. The swim team, for ages five and up, is based at the Recreation Center, and the Adlerian Center operates in a facility owned by the Association adjacent to the Recreation Center.
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The Covenants and Restrictions

The Harbison community is developed and managed under a Declaration of Covenants, Restrictions, Easements, Charges and Liens. This Declaration is a legal document that runs with the title to all property in Harbison. A Harbison property owner automatically comes under the terms of the Declaration in much the same way as a property owner is subject to the laws of a county or a city or to other covenants and easements on the property.

An important aspect of the Declaration is the Restrictions and Guidelines that were created to benefit all property owners by ensuring adherence to practices and standards aimed at protecting property values. The Association had the responsibility to enforce these Restrictions and Guidelines.

Among the subjects covered in these Restrictions and Guidelines are maintenance of property, trailer/boat parking, structural additions or changes, signage, and fencing requirements. A Residential Design Review Committee must review and approve any changes or alterations to existing houses and other structures on residential lots. This committee is made up of residents with appropriate backgrounds and experience related to evaluating the information submitted.

A Design and Development Review Committee is responsible for assuring that all proposed construction or alteration of any structure on property in Harbison is performed in accordance with high-quality environmental and design standards. The DDRC is made up of professionals experienced in various aspects of land development, such as architecture, land planning and landscape architecture.
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Mandatory Annual Assessment Fee

All property owners (retail, commercial, residential) are obligated to pay an annual assessment fee to the HCA to maintain common property and Association facilities and to conduct the Association’s business and operations. Operating expenses include the maintenance of the two lakes (repair of bank erosion, weed and algae control, plantings, etc.), maintenance of the pathways and underpasses; maintenance and replacement of equipment for play lots and picnic areas; insurance; Association activities to protect property values (such as helping to expedite the sale of foreclosure properties); special services (such as mosquito spraying), and a newsletter to disseminate pertinent information on a regular basis.

The assessment for a single family residential property is determined by combining a flat fee with an amount calculated by applying a rate against the county appraised value of the property. The assessment for retail/commercial property and for apartment complexes is determined by applying a rate against the county appraised value of the property. Annual assessments can change slightly from year to year, depending upon such factors as commercials/retail development and the number of housing units. The assessment is secured by a lien upon each piece of property in Harbison. Significant income also is generated by the Recreation Center through programs, membership fee from non-property owners, etc.
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Governing Board

The Harbison Community Association (HCA) is incorporated as a non-profit organization. All property owners and residents automatically are members of the Association. The HCA is run by a nine-member Board of Directors, elected by the property owners and residents. Represented are small businesses, large businesses and tenants as well as residential property owners. The Board establishes the operational policies of the HCA and retains a staff to manage day-to-day operations.
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An Innovative Model

Harbison occupies a unique position as cities attempt to address the problems associated with growth and as interest is focused on a return to traditional community design. It is the only community created under the New Communities Program that has adhered to the original concept and survived.

Harbison is a functioning model of an innovative and affordable alternative to typical, too-often-unplanned urban expansion. Bu having adhered as closely as possible to the original concepts upon which the Harbison plan was based, Harbison offers much of what proponents of the “new urbanism” advocate: sensitivity to the environment, access to the outdoors, incorporation of pathways to encourage walking, jobs and retail facilities within the community, a variety of amenities, and diverse residential options.

For some, such factors as mandatory assessment fees and building restrictions may preclude any interest in a planned community. For others, Harbison has much to offer as a planned community intent on preserving and enhancing quality of life.
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Approach To Competition

Another characteristic that set Harbison apart from other communities is the operating philosophy regarding competition. A concerted effort is made to down play the intense competition factor in all programs for all ages. The goal truly is recreation. Programs are designed (even to the extent of incorporating special rules) to encourage participation regardless of skill level so that participation is a pleasant experience as well as an opportunity to develop proficiencies.
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