Consultant Urges Town to Relax Master Plan

Parler: Are We Going to Grow or Not Grow?

BLYTHEWOOD – As the last presenter at Town Council’s annual retreat on March 7, Ed Parler, the Town’s economic development consultant, was charged with closing the deal on the town’s need for economic development. He pressed Council to answer the question, “Are we going to grow or not grow?”

Parler addressed two areas of commerce in the town: 1) the need for more businesses in the downtown area, with more intense commerce along Blythewood Road all the way to Muller Road, and 2) a commercial industrial growth corridor between Community Road and Ashley Oaks.

To bring more commerce into the downtown area, Parler had several suggestions, including relaxing the Master Plan standards for building height, creating a grid street system in the Town Center between the interstate and Wilson Boulevard (Main Street) and extending Creech Road (which runs from Hardee’s back to the Holiday Inn Express) to run parallel to I-77 behind Blythewood High School and connect with North Fire Tower Road. Extending the road, Parler said, would open up a large area for commerce. He also saw Blythewood Road (down to Muller Road) as having more intense commercial businesses in the future such as grocery stores.

For what he called the long term health of the area, Parler asked Council to consider putting zoning in place that would accommodate industrial growth.

“A $100 million plant,” he said, “could be paying as much as $1 million in taxes over a 30-year period. The average manufacturing job pays $38,000 a year.”

Parler specifically spoke to a plan that Richland County has to bring manufacturing to a 600-acre property within the town limits between I-77 and Ashley Oaks. In 2003, that area was zoned for a Light Industrial Research Park (LIRP) by the Ballow administration, but due in large part to community resistance, the large wooded acreage was later down-zoned to Development (D-1), a zoning designation akin to Rural (RU). In response to a request from Nelson Lindsay, Richland County’s Director of Economic Development, the Blythewood Planning Commission recently approved a Light Industrial Zoning II (LI[2]) zoning classification for what it termed light industrial use and has recommended it to Council for passage.

“If you create that zoning district (LI[2]), you will immediately have Richland County coming to ask for it to be applied to this property,” Parler said. “At that point, the County will option the property and do extensive work to make it a certified site.”

Parler said the property has been on the County’s radar for some time.

While Parler assured Council that the LI(2) did not include industries involved in such things as foundry work, petroleum products, rubber products or industries that produce noise and odor, he also said there would be no distribution centers. However, when the zoning amendment was presented to the Planning Commission on Jan. 5, it was tabled for further study after Commissioner Mike Switzer pointed out that some of the listed permitted industries, such as tire manufacturing and textile mills, might be considered heavy rather than limited manufacturing. The Commission did subsequently recommend the zoning to Council, which has not yet passed it.

Parler said he would like to see the same zoning standards adopted for the 600 acres that were previously applied to the LIRP in 2003, but with some changes, including changing the height limitations for the industrial facilities. He would like to see them raised from the 40 feet permitted in the LIRP up to 100 feet in the LI(2) zoning district.

“There is no residential in the area,” Parler said. “When you see a property of this magnitude, there is the opportunity for one or two very large investments. Prepare yourself. Are we going to accommodate these larger manufacturing facilities and are they welcome?”

Parler said the Town should consider industrial zoning because of its potential to yield a higher revenue and better use than residential property.

“We have some very positive things occurring,” Parler concluded.