Rimer Pond Road’s Next Hurdle

Rezoning Comes to Public Hearing

Rimer Pond map April 24 copyBLYTHEWOOD – Rimer Pond Road residents are expected to show up at a Richland County Council public hearing on Tuesday evening a little before 7 p.m. to sign up to speak against the proposed rezoning of a 5.23-acre parcel of land at the intersection of Rimer Pond Road and Longtown Road/Trading Post Road. The owner of the property, Sycamore Development, is requesting a change in zoning from Medium Density Residential (RS-MD) to Rural Commercial (RC). The parcel is located across from Blythewood Middle School.

While the County’s Planning Department staff is recommending that Council vote in favor of commercial zoning, the County’s Planning Commission, which is the recommending body to County Council, voted 4-1 on April 6 against the staff’s recommendation.

The Chairman of the Planning Commission, Patrick Palmer, recused himself from voting on the rezoning request since he is handling the sale of the property. Palmer is the Director of Retail Services for NAI Avant Commercial Real Estate in Columbia. It was reported in the April 17 issue of The Voice that Palmer is also an owner of Sycamore Development, but he told The Voice on Tuesday that he is not. He would not say who the owners are. However, the Secretary of State’s office lists his father, Hugh A. Palmer, as the registered agent for Sycamore Development.

Two Columbia area commercial realtors, who asked not to be named, provided The Voice earlier this week with a sales promotion flyer from Palmer’s office advertising the property to prospective buyers as having already been zoned for commercial use. Both sources said the flyer was distributed prior to the April 6 Planning Commission meeting. The document lists Palmer as the person to contact for more information. When reached by The Voice on Tuesday to verify the authenticity of the flyer, Palmer took responsibility for the flyer, but said he did not realize that it contained incorrect information claiming the property was already zoned commercial. He told The Voice that he would make that correction in the flyer.

Among other information, the flyer states that the 5.23 acres identified as commercially zoned are priced at $350,000 per acre and an additional 31.23 acres of adjoining lots owned by Sycamore Development and zoned for medium density residential use are priced at $28,500 per acre.

A notation at the bottom of the sales flyer states: “This document may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the express written consent of NAI Avant.”

Twenty or so residents from Rimer Pond Road, LongCreek Plantation and Round Top Community attended the April 6 meeting to protest the rezoning and remind the Planning Commission that there is no commercial zoning anywhere on the road. They talked about their love of the rural, the increasing traffic congestion on the road and their fear of how commercial development would change their community.

“For the last 25 years we have been down here helping the county make zoning decisions on our road,” longtime Rimer Pond Road resident Michael Watts told the Commission. “Every time commercial has come up on this road, we’ve been here to say thanks but no thanks. We like it the way it is. Commercial zoning has no place in this rural environment. We’re begging you to not put it on us. Let us continue to enjoy the rural out here.”

Joanna Weitzel of LongCreek Plantation said, “Blythewood has managed to maintain the integrity of its rural. If you open up one store out here, you’ll open up a flood gate of commercial. You’ll change our rural community. I’m not against development. But I am for responsible development. This is not responsible development.”

Palmer told The Voice on Tuesday that he thinks commercial zoning will not bring to fruition the residents’ worst fears.

“It makes sense to me that Rural Commercial zoning would be appropriate (within) a rural zoned area,” Palmer said.

The County zoning code for RC includes grocery stores, liquor stores and convenience stores with gas pumps as well as offices and restaurants. Palmer said he envisions this particular commercial zoning to “service the folks who live there.”

He also said this zoning “is what the County, as a whole, has instructed the development community to do. Maybe it’s against what the residents out here want. But as a person who owns property in the county, all I have to go on is what the County says, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

He said the County’s Comprehensive (Comp) Land Use Plan and zoning ordinances say “this is the direction we want to grow.”

Palmer also said a cell tower on the property limited what he could do with the property, saying he couldn’t put homes there because, “people don’t want to live around cell towers.” Rimer Pond Road resident Ken Queen reminded the Planning Commission, though, that Palmer had originally asked for and was granted residential zoning for the entire property and now wants to change the point of the parcel to commercial zoning.

According to the County staff’s zoning district summary, RC zoning is designed to bring commercial services to residents in the more isolated agricultural and rural districts who are located beyond the limits of commercial services. The summary also states that the RC district is designed to be located at or near intersections of major collector roads.

“All the (zoning) guidance points to this intersection as a parcel needing rezoning. That’s what the guidance says,” Palmer continued. “The documents that the County has passed have put this area as an area for change per the comp plan.”

Planning Commissioner Heather Cairns disagreed.

“If all it takes is an intersection for there to be commercial development in what is an otherwise totally rural area, I’m sort of horrified,” Cairns said. “That means we won’t ever have integrity in our rural areas. It may be an intersection, but this area is already well served by commercial development a couple of miles away.”

Cairns also addressed the suggestion that the school contributed favorably to commercial development.

“To me,” Cairns said, “to see a school completely surrounded by residences, I say that’s a good thing. Just because a school is there does not mean it has to have commercial next door. This area is not underserved by commercial development.”

Commissioner Beverly Frierson agreed, saying that the properties along Rimer Pond Road are not isolated from commercial services.

“These residents,” she said, “would be adversely impacted. There are already stores and conveniences nearby.”

The zoning request will be heard by the County Council at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28, at the County Building, 2020 Hampton St. in Columbia (at the corner of Hampton and Harden streets) and is the first item on the docket.

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