Rezoning Effort Dies on First Reading

An effort to rezone nearly 7 and a half acres of land on Toatley Road in Winnsboro died at Monday night’s County Council meeting when the first reading of the ordinance failed to garner a second.

The property is owned by Melvin Stevenson, who sought to have the land rezoned from RD (Rural Resource District) to B-1 (Limited Business District) in order to make way for the Williams Center for Counseling. Stevenson was represented at the meeting by his brother Al Stevenson, who told council that the proposed Williams Center would cater to at-risk children, between the ages of 5 and 18, in the county. The clientele would be recommended to the Center by the School District, Stevenson said, and would include children who had not yet entered the legal system, but were at potential risk for doing so. The Center would have served between three and five children a day, Stevenson told council, and would be headed by Dr. Karen Williams.

Councilman Kamau Marcharia placed the motion on the floor after council heard from Stevenson as well as several members of the Toatley Road community who spoke against the rezoning.

“I was a little dismayed, that when folks come forth and speak about trying to do something to prevent something before it happens – not just when someone is a criminal or has gotten in trouble – we’re going to try to prevent this,” Marcharia said near the close of the meeting. “No more than three children a day would be (at the facility), who had never been in serious trouble, and try to keep them out of trouble, and that was denied. We either pay now or we pay later. I don’t understand it, that when it comes down to looking out for our children, there’s such apathy, indifference. I would like each council member to tell me, what was really the harm, if that place was put there, what was the danger to the community? Who is going to be hurt by that? How could we stop these kids from getting some kind of service they really need and probably deserve? We just passed it by and didn’t really act on it. It’s kind of embarrassing.”

Carrie Matthews, who lives in the community, spoke against the facility.

“This is not a mom-and-pop store or a backyard beauty parlor that would be fulfilling the needs of the community,” Matthews said before presenting council with a petition of signatures against the zoning request. “These are clients who have a history of behavioral problems. There is a concern among vulnerable people in the community. We feel strongly there are surely other services available in town, and if not, Winnsboro would be the more logical place to locate such a facility.”

The possibility of increased trespassing, crime and traffic, Matthews said, were major concerns among the residents of the isolated, quiet community.

Ron Stowers, the County Building and Zoning Department Director, told council that B-1, while consistent with other land uses in RD zoning, also includes 71 other uses.

“Anything that is permitted use in B-1 would be allowed to go in there,” Stowers said, “either in lieu of what they’re talking about or in addition to that.”

“That makes you stop and think about it a little bit,” Council member Mary Lynn Kinley said.

“Once it’s zoned, that’s what it is,” Council Chairman David Ferguson said. “If that business goes in and ceases to operate there, that piece of property is still zoned in that new zoning area. That’s also a concern of mine. You have to look past that one initial thing that it might be because it could turn into some other things. And 70 is a pretty big list.”

Ferguson said some questions about whether the proposed clinic would be offering services not offered elsewhere in the county would have to be addressed before third reading of the ordinance. However, with the failure of the first reading, those questions will remain unanswered. After the meeting, Marcharia said he was surprised the ordinance did not at least pass the first reading and move on to the next phase where questions such as those could have been debated.