County Planning Commission to Tweak Zoning Rule

Rimer Pond Developer Held Back by Provision

COLUMBIA – The Richland County Planning Commission voted on Monday to rewrite a portion of the County’s Rural Commercial zoning ordinance that has so far impeded Patrick Palmer, Chairman of the Planning Commission, from moving forward with his own request to rezone 5.23 acres of property on Rimer Pond Road from Medium Density Residential (RS-MD) zoning to Rural Commercial (RC) zoning.

The property is part of a larger 31.23-acre property owned by Sycamore Development LLC. Palmer’s father, Hugh A. Palmer, is a principal in Sycamore Development LLC, and Patrick Palmer, a commercial realtor with NIA Avant Commercial Real Estate in Columbia, is representing his father’s company in the sale of the property, which is listed at $350,000 per acre.

While the County planning staff recommended on April 6 that the Planning Commission vote to recommend to County Council that Palmer’s request for commercial rezoning be granted, the Planning Commission balked, citing the official ‘summary’ statement attached to the Rural Commercial zoning district ordinance. The summary, or purpose statement, describes areas best suited for Rural Commercial zoning. In describing those areas best suited for Rural Commercial zoning, the ‘summary’ identified, among other things: “the more isolated agricultural and rural residential districts and residents located beyond the limits of services of the municipalities . . .”

At the April 6 meeting, a large group of residents opposing the proposed commercial zoning pointed out that the summary inaccurately described the area surrounding the property for which Palmer, the applicant, was requesting commercial zoning.

Commissioner Beverly Frierson, one of four commissioners who voted against the commercial zoning request, agreed that the area in question is not isolated or located beyond the limits of service.

“They are already well served by commercial conveniences,” Frierson said.

Because of his conflict of interest in the property, Palmer recused himself from voting at that meeting and the Commission, with a 4-1 vote, sent the zoning request to County Council with a recommendation for denial. When the issue came before County Council on April 27, Chairman Torrey Rush stated that a large contingent of residents were there in opposition to the rezoning and asked that the issue be deferred without discussion until May 26 to allow the developer time to explain the proposed commercial development to the residents, even though the developer had at that time made no attempt to contact residents.

The County planning staff then delayed the zoning request another month, to be heard at Council on June 23. The reason for that delay, as explained by County officials, was to allow the Planning Commission to review the wording of the summary section of the Rural Commercial zoning ordinance, which had been the culprit in the Commission’s recommendation for denial of the zoning request on April 6.

After another month-long delay by the Planning Commission in reviewing the summary (because Palmer said he was not able to be present for the discussion), it was finally reviewed on Monday with the Commission’s unanimous recommendation for a rewrite of the summary at its July 6 meeting.

Monday’s meeting was dominated by conversation between Palmer and County Planning Director Tracey Haigler, whose staff had backed Palmer’s rezoning request on April 6. Haigler’s microphone was inexplicably turned off at times during her discussions with Palmer so that her part of the conversation was inaudible to the audience, and she was asked by some Commission members to turn it back on.

“Are we looking at modifying the code as a whole?” Palmer asked Haigler.

“We are,” Haigler said, explaining further that, “the purpose statement has been used to either approve or deny something and we want to be sure it actually meets the intent of the Planning Commission.”

While Haigler said she had requested funding for an outside consultant to rewrite the summary, she said funds were tight and that the rewrite would probably have to be done in-house by the staff and suggested the staff could work on that at the July meeting.

Palmer argued that “This (summary) part of the code, it’s more of a theoretical issue.” He asked, “Should those (summaries) even be in the code?”

“I agree that the intent is more of a theoretical intent of the code,” Haigler said, “but I’m just saying it’s been used as the basis for denial or approval (of zoning requests).”

“Maybe we need to get a more definitive classification like, say, road classifications where we use vehicle trips per day,” Palmer suggested. “The term ‘isolated’ could mean anything less than 3,000 vehicle trips per day or maybe less than 12,000 trips per day.”

The Planning Commission will next meet at 1 p.m. on July 3. A public hearing before County Council is scheduled for Palmer’s commercial zoning request at 7 p.m. on June 23.

The zoning change requires three votes by council, each usually taken at a regular Council meeting. The public hearing, when the first vote is taken, is the only time the public is allowed to address the issue. If the Council votes to deny the request on any of the three votes, the request is not allowed to come back before the Planning Commission for a year.

Both Planning Commission and Council meetings are held at the County Building at 2020 Hampton St. at the intersection of Hampton and Harden streets. To receive agendas and meeting packets for Planning Commission and Council meetings, call Suzi Haynes at 803-576-2176, or email her at [email protected]