Zoning Guidelines Deferred

Rimer Pond Issue Takes Another Turn

COLUMBIA – An unheralded but potentially game changing item that appeared on the agenda of the Richland County Planning Commission on Monday afternoon has some residents on Rimer Pond Road and the surrounding area confused about where a request by Sycamore Development, Inc. for 5.23 acres of commercial zoning on their road is headed.

The agenda item, titled ‘Summary of Rural Commercial (RC)’ is a paragraph in the zoning ordinance with the purpose of serving as a guideline for how the County staff makes recommendations on zoning requests to the County Planning Commission, which in turn makes recommendations on zoning requests to County Council, the chamber where zoning requests ultimately become law or die.

When the request for commercial zoning on Rimer Pond Road came before the Commission on April 6 with a recommendation from County staff favoring the rezoning based on the summary guidelines, residents along the road showed up at the meeting to protest that, among other things, the summary’s guidelines for where to establish Rural Commercial zoning are flawed. While the opening sentence of the summary states that the RC district is suitable for “residents of the more isolated agricultural and rural residential districts and residents located beyond the limits of service of the municipalities,” another section of the summary states, “the RC district is proposed to be within or adjacent to residential neighborhoods.”

Agreeing that the appropriate location for Rural Commercial zoning as defined in the summary is not consistent with that of the Rimer Pond Road area, the Commission balked at the staff’s recommendation favoring the zoning and sided with residents in a 4-1 vote against what could become the first commercial zoning on the road.

Commissioner Beverly Frierson agreed with residents that the Rimer Pond Road/LongCreek Plantation area surrounding the proposed commercial rezoning is not isolated or located beyond the limits of service. Frierson questioned how staff had come up with their recommendation for commercial zoning for this area based on the summary.

The summary also stated that “this (RC) district is designed to be located at or near intersections of arterial and/or major collector roads.”

When the issue came before County Council for a public hearing and first vote last week, residents representing Rimer Pond Road, LongCreek Plantation, Eagles Glen and the Round Top Community showed up in even larger numbers, about 40, to protest the zoning request.

However, without allowing the residents to address Council with their concerns, County Council Chairman Torrey Rush called for the issue to be deferred until the May 26 Council meeting, saying he wanted to give the developer time to meet with the residents to explain the commercial plan. Rush also expressed concern as to why the Commission had not followed the staff’s recommendation favoring Sycamore Development’s request for commercial zoning, though it is not required in the code that the Commission follow staff’s recommendations.

Rimer Pond Road resident Trey Hair told The Voice that the residents attending the meeting were frustrated by the delay and felt, whether intended or not, it favored the developer, owners and broker, not the residents.

A few days later, the ‘Summary of Rural Commercial (RC)’ showed up for action (vote) on the Planning Commission’s May 5 agenda but, before it was discussed, the Commission’s Chairman, Patrick Palmer, said he would have to leave the meeting early so the item was deferred until the June 7 meeting.

Suzi Haynes, Boards and Committees Coordinator for the County’s Planning and Services Department, told The Voice that the item was put on the agenda by staff in response to Commissioner Frierson’s concern at the April 6 meeting as to whether the ‘Summary of Rural Commercial (RC)’ might be outdated, therefore not applicable to Rimer Pond Road. But Haynes said she did not know how the Commission might consider changing it if they should choose to do so.

“As it stands currently,” Hair said, “the summary favors our position against commercial zoning being brought into our area. Rural Commercial is not appropriate for our area. But it could be changed to favor the developer. We’ll just have to wait and see what the Commission does with it.”

According to Haynes, the current request for commercial zoning would come under the Summary for Rural Commercial (RC) as it is currently adopted. She said Sycamore Development, Inc. would have to withdraw its current request and start over after any changes were made to the summary for the request to be subject to any new summary guidelines.

Adding fuel to the residents’ burning opposition to the commercial zoning request is the fact that the sale of the 5.23 acres is being handled by Palmer, the Planning Commission’s Chairman, who is Director of Retail Services for NAI Avant Commercial Real Estate in Columbia. While Palmer told The Voice that he is not an owner of the property and would not reveal who the owners are, his father, Hugh A. Palmer is listed as the registered agent for the property on the S. C. Secretary of State’s website. Palmer recused himself from voting on the zoning request at the April 6 meeting. But Haynes told The Voice that Palmer is not in violation, ethically, to discuss and vote on changes to the Summary of Rural Commercial (RC).

The commercial sales price of the 5.23 acres is listed at $350,000 per acre.

 

Comments

  1. Trey Hair says

    In my opinion, the potential change to the ordinance is an obvious attempt by the developer to use his position as Chair of the Richland County Planning Commission to alter laws in his favor. A completely unethical act and conflict of interest.

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