Planning Commission, Town Begin Work on Comprehensive Plan

BLYTHEWOOD – Last week, Wayne Schuler with the Midlands Council of Governments presented the Planning Commission with a review of representative data that will be used to update the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. That Plan sets land use policy and guidance for the Town Council for the purpose of establishing zoning. The data collected by Schuler is designed to help the Town plan for future needs and consists of such basic information as average personal income, home prices, employment, housing (types and prices), growth, commuter data, etc.

“With this data the Town government can more accurately look at goals and priorities for the Town,” Town Planner Michael Criss explained.

For instance, some of the data Schuler presented pointed to a lack of affordable housing in Blythewood. A contributing factor is that Blythewood’s average personal income is second only to Arcadia Lakes in a four county area. With a median family income of $109,423 and low (3 percent) unemployment rate, there has been little demand for affordable housing.

Commissioner Ernestine Middleton asked Schuler if the Town should take into account affordable housing needed with any industry coming to the area such as the 500 jobs coming to Fairfield County.

“If there are housing needs for people that are low income,” Middleton asked, “should we provide low income housing for them in our area?”

While Schuler said affordable housing is one area that the government will have to look at in the future, he said the Town has taken some initial steps toward a partial solution by creating higher density zoning in the new Town Center District. Schuler said this type of zoning would lend itself to a greater variety of housing that could include apartments. He said this could address the Town’s deficiency in low income housing.

According to Schuler’s data, Blythewood is clearly on the wealthy side, with almost half the homes in the town ranging in price from $300,000 to $500,000 and another quarter of them in the $200,000 to $300,000 range. Based on the 2010 census data, 25 percent of the single family housing units fell within the range for low income families in the town. But only 8 percent fell within the range of low income families in the Columbia Metro Statistical Area (MSA.)

Schuler said the priority investment areas of the town are in the Town Center District and include the I-77/Blythewood Road exchange, Blythewood Town Hall and the northwest corner of Main Street and McNulty Avenue.

But Schuler said the Town’s goals in its Comprehensive Plan remain unchanged. He pointed out that the complimentary policies from the Master Plan have been added to matching goals to link the Master Plan with the Comprehensive Plan. He said to implement these goals the Town must pay close attention to its revenue stream.

The Comprehensive Plan, Schuler explained, presents the broad picture for future planning. The Town’s Master Plan, he said, focuses on specifics — such as specific projects on specific parcels, where buildings are placed and how they should look, etc.

“Now, in 2013,” Criss told The Voice, “we’re going to start fusing these two plans together, cross referencing between the two.”

The state requires that if a government adopts planning and zoning, it must also adopt a Comprehensive Plan that is reviewed and updated every five years by the Town’s Planning Commission. Blythewood’s Town government last updated its Plan in 2008 and made significant tweaks to the Plan with the adoption of its Master Plan for the Town in 2010.