Blythewood Town Council at Odds Over New Zoning

There was strong disagreement among Town Council members Monday evening over a text amendment to the Town’s commercial zoning ordinance, which they passed into law on a final vote of 3-2.

Mayor J. Michael Ross joined  Council members Ed Garrison and Paul Moscati in voting for the measure. Council members Jeff Branham and Roger Hovis voted against it.

The ordinance has been billed by Town Administrator John Perry as, primarily, a way to provide more transition in zoning and more specificity as to what uses are to be permitted in zoning districts.

But Hovis and Branham said  the new zoning was too restrictive on some of the town’s longtime businesses and that it could take away those business or property owners’ livelihood under certain conditions.

“This is not what Blythewood is about,” Branham told the board. “If Pope Davis [deemed nonconforming under the new law] burns down or if more than 50 percent of its building is damaged, that owner can’t build back.

“[The ordinance] is too intrusive for our people who have invested their money and their entire lives in their business to not be able to rebuild in that place if something catastrophic happens. That’s too much restriction,” Branham said.

According to the ordinance, a business that has been deemed nonconforming by Council could not rebuild, move to another location in town, expand or make certain other changes necessary to its success and survival.

Hovis said he concurred with Branham that the ordinance was too restrictive and unfair to some of the town’s businesses.

Garrison, who is a developer, said he has been involved in the vision of the Master Plan from the beginning.

“We aren’t going to make everyone happy,” Garrison said. “If you’re going to create Blythewood to be what the community wants it to be, we’ve got to plan for the future, not for today. We can accommodate most individuals. We have to set high standards.

“I was talking to a developer from Atlanta last week and he said he wants a community to have high standards,” Garrison added. “We’ve got a little push back, but we accept that.”

But Branham did not agree.

“We’re going to keep raising the costs of building in the town and make businesses  who are already established into nonconforming businesses  after they have put their entire lives and savings into those businesses,” Branham objected. “What are we going to tell them? Well, you can sell it for what the property is worth or you can open a different type of business.

“That’s not what Blythewood is and that’s not what Blythewood is about,” Branham said. “I don’t feel we should take these businesses out of Blythewood.”

The ordinance targets such businesses as automotive-related businesses and others such as check cashing and title loan businesses.

Perry told Council that state law calls for nonconforming land uses to not be rebuilt if  it sustains more than 50 percent damage to the building.

But it is the Town Council who determines to which businesses the state law would apply since Town Council designates which businesses are nonconforming.

Moscati, who voted to pass the ordinance, said he didn’t want Blythewood to turn into another Two Notch Road.

“We’re trying to control that,” he said. “It’s not going to suit everyone, but I’d rather have it than not.”

Ross agreed that he would have a problem if the government told him he couldn’t rebuild the pharmacy (he used to own.)

“But we’re just making it more accurate what you can put in.  And only three or four businesses came to speak against it at the public hearing,” Ross said.

The only exception granted to the ordinance was for the Palmetto Gold and Pawn store, which rents space in McNulty Plaza. That business classification was spared from nonconformity after the owner and the landlord, who co-owns the building with Ross, asked that pawn shops be classified along with antique stores and consignment shops. The Planning Commission recommended that change and Council approved it.

After Storage Express showed up on the nonconformity block, its owner, DeWayne Bohanan, appealed for his business to be spared and Perry suggested the Town Center boundary exclude that business. Council concurred.

While Pope Davis Tire Company’s co-owner also appealed to opt out of the nonconformity designation, that change was not made by Council.

In addition to passing the zoning text amendment 3-2, Council also passed unanimously two zoning map amendments – one for all commercial properties in the town and one for 19 commercial properties outside the town.

The zoning map shows how properties are zoned. The zoning text explains what regulations apply in a specific zoning district. It is the text that designates whether a business or property is nonconforming.

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