Rimer Pond Road Faces Zoning Threat

BLYTHEWOOD – About 10 residents of Rimer Pond Road appeared before the Planning Commission Monday night to express their concerns about a letter the Mayor received from a Chapin resident seeking his support for a potential commercial zoning request on property he owned on Rimer Pond Road. The request is to change the zoning on the property from Rural (RU) zoning to Rural Commercial (RC) zoning, which would, according to an employee in the Richland County Planning Department, permit many kinds of businesses including liquor stores, restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores with gas pumps, pawn shops, motor vehicle sales and more.

In the letter, dated Feb. 17, John L. Warren stated that he was giving the Town government a “heads up on a request I am making (to Richland County Council) to rezone from rural to commercial a piece of property adjacent to the Town of Blythewood.” The property is located on Rimer Pond Road about 600 feet from Highway 21, just outside the Blythewood Town limits in the unincorporated area of Richland County and subject to Richland County zoning, not Town of Blythewood zoning.

Warren’s letter also asked for Mayor J. Michael Ross’ support in his (Warren’s) effort to have Richland County Council re-zone the property. The letter further stated, “Though I would hate to do this to the community, if we can’t get it rezoned, we plan to divide the property and locate mobile homes on (it), which would in turn be rented to generate income.”

Trey Hair, a resident of Rimer Pond Road, told The Voice before the meeting on Monday night that Warren’s threat of mobile homes was no threat to the residents.

“We already have mobile homes on the road,” Hair said. “They’re homes. It’s commercial zoning that threatens our rural existence.”

Warren’s letter was copied to Town Administrator Gary Parker and to Planning Commission Chairman Malcolm Gordge who, it was later learned by The Voice, was asked by the Mayor to reply to Warren.

In that reply, dated Feb. 24, Gordge said, “The Mayor and I have discussed your desire to amend the zoning of the property in question from Rural to Commercial and we would like to help you if at all possible.”

Gordge went on to say that “the staff at Town Hall and myself would welcome the opportunity to chat with you informally and under no obligation about your plans and how the Town might help.”

Gordge also advised Warren that in order for the Town to help him he would need to annex the property into the Town. Gordge further stated that Warren could “feel free to write, call or e-mail me in confidence at any time.”

While Warren’s letter was disclosed at the Planning Commission meeting, Gordge’s reply to Warren was not. Gordge did, however, supply a copy of the reply to The Voice when it learned about it the next day and asked for it. Both Gordge and Mayor Ross told The Voice they have had no response from Warren.

During public comment time Monday evening, Hair told the Commission, “We’ve been before you before, opposing the commercialization of Rimer Pond Road. While we are not residents of the Town, we are in the community. We shop here, attend Blythewood churches, Blythewood schools and participate in the community’s activities. We would ask that you support us, the majority who do not want the commercialization of Rimer Pond Road, rather than support (Warren) who has never lived here, will never live here and simply bought the piece of property to rezone it and sell for a profit,” Hair continued. “It may have been a bad investment on his part, but once it becomes commercial, that commercial will domino right down the road.”

Warren came before Town Council in 2009, saying he purchased the property on the strength of the Town’s then-proposed Master Plan that designated a portion of the road where it connects to Highway 21 as a commercial ‘node.’ Residents on the Road repeatedly appeared in large numbers before both the Blythewood Planning Commission and Town Council to ask that commercial zoning be limited to Highway 21 and not be brought down Rimer Pond Road.

Town Councilman Bob Massa, who was then a member of the Town’s Planning Commission, told The Voice on Monday that the Town government, at that time, agreed to the residents’ requests and did not further pursue commercial zoning on the road. However, the Master Plan still reflects the commercial ‘node.’

Hair told the Commission that with the proposed eventual widening of the road and the City of Columbia currently working toward laying a 48-inch water main along the road, “if commercial zoning gets a foothold, the road will quickly become another Clemson Road.” Rimer Pond Road is lined primarily with large acre properties and farms along with several neighborhoods including Eagle’s Glen and Cooper’s Pond.

“We live here,” Hair said. “We don’t have a sign like Cobblestone, but it is our community, and I just want to go on record against commercial zoning on Rimer Pond Road. And I ask for your support in our objections to commercial zoning on our road.”

Gordge told Hair, “We have some sympathy with your views, but that area has been earmarked (by the Town’s Master Plan) for some type of commercial zoning. But your comments will be helpful to us in the future.” Gorge said that commercial zoning might not be as bad as the residents envision.

“It’s easy to for you to say it’s not going to be as bad as I feel it will be,” Hair said, “but once the commercialization begins, we won’t be able to stop it. It will domino.”

Commissioner Marcus Taylor, however, told Hair that when the issue comes before Richland County, “I think we (Commission) just have to go down and support you guys’ opinion. Taylor said he knew there had been efforts in the past to commercialize the road, and I know you don’t want it. So when we find out (when it will come before Richland County) I’ll go down with you.”

Gordge asked if the road’s other residents in attendance were in accord with Hair’s comments and they all said they were.

Warren’s request, along with another request by developer Patrick Palmer for 5 acres of commercial zoning further down the road, across from Blythewood Middle School, is scheduled to be on the Richland County Planning Commission’s agenda at its next meeting on April 6 at 1 p.m. in the County building at Harden and Hampton streets in Columbia. Suzie Haynes, who prepares agendas for the County’s boards, told The Voice that both Warren’s and Palmer’s applications are for Rural Commercial (RC) zoning.

Changing the Record

In other business, Gordge spoke on behalf of Commissioner Mike Switzer, who was absent, asking that the minutes to the February Planning Commission meeting be changed to reflect that Switzer had, at the February Town Council work session, apologized for remarks he had made at the February Planning Commission meeting criticizing the Mayor and Town Council for being anti-business. Even though the apology was not made at a Planning Commission meeting, Gordge asked that the Planning Commission minutes be changed to reflect the apology.