Public Resists Rezoning Efforts

Rimer Pond Road Residents Put Developer on the Spot

BLYTHEWOOD – No minds were changed after a June 8 neighborhood meeting at Round Top Elementary School between 50 or so residents opposing a request for the commercial zoning of 5.23 acres on Rimer Pond Road (across from Blythewood Middle School) and two Richland County government officials: Torrey Rush, County Council Chairman and representative of the district surrounding the 5.23 acres and Geonardo (Geo) Price, Richland County Zoning Administrator. Also present was the applicant for the commercial zoning request, Patrick Palmer who is the broker in charge of the sale of the property as well as Chairman of the Richland County Planning Commission that recommends zoning for the property. Palmer is also son of the owner of the property.

Palmer has listed the property for $350,000 per acre, but that price is dependent on the County rezoning it for commercial use. Palmer said at the meeting and later told The Voice that a 9,000-square-foot building is planned for the property. Asked by The Voice to verify or deny a rumor circulating that a Dollar store is planned for the site, Palmer said he didn’t know. The 5.23 acres is part of a larger 31.23-acre parcel zoned Medium Density Residential (MS-RD).

Price opened the June 8 meeting by saying he did not want to throw anyone under the bus, then proceeded to say members of the Richland County Planning Commission had not given a good enough reason at their April 6 meeting as to why they voted against staff’s recommendation that the 5.23 acres should be zoned commercial. But Suzie Haynes, Boards & Committees Coordinator for Richland County Planning & Development Services, told The Voice that the only reason the Commission is asked to give a reason for their decision when going against staff’s recommendation is so Council can better understand the Commission’s position on the issue.

“There was really nothing substantial from the Planning Commission to make us (staff) go back and look at this area,” Price insisted, pressing on. “I was not comfortable (with their reasons). It was not clear as to why they should oppose staff’s recommendation (for commercial zoning).

The Commissioners said they voted against the request because the Zoning District Summary in the zoning ordinance for Rural Commercial District (RC) was antiquated in that it stated, among other things, that the RC district was best suited for isolated agricultural and rural residential areas and so that residents located beyond the limits of service of the municipalities can receive convenience merchandising and services. Commissioners concluded that RC did not apply to the area around the 5.23 acres.

When later asked whether the Commission’s reason for recommending denial of commercial zoning on the 5.23 acres was valid, the County’s Planning Director, Tracy Hegler, said the Commission’s point was, indeed, a valid reason for voting to deny staff’s recommendation for commercial zoning.

The residents repeatedly told Rush and Price that the Rimer Pond Road area was neither isolated nor underserved and therefore the RC zoning district was not suitable for the area.

“Nobody out here asked you to bring a Papa John’s or anything else to us,” Rimer Pond Road resident Ken Queen told Palmer. “We don’t want them here.” He then turned to Rush. “If the residents, your constituents, don’t want it, that’s what counts.”

Other residents chimed in in agreement.

One unidentified resident said, “What we’re saying is that we have enough conveniences. This zoning change does not fit our area. Services are very convenient to us now – the bank, grocery store, etc.”

“But we look at how this area should grow,” Price countered.

When one resident replied to Price, “But we don’t want it,” the audience applauded.

Palmer told residents that he had been on the Planning Commission for 12 years and that he was part of the community and lived in the area. But he later recanted that statement, saying instead that he lived in the Northeast when pressed by a resident as to whether he actually lived in Blythewood.

“This is not about community,” Queen said, “It’s about greed. With all due respect, Mr. Palmer, the rest of the property (besides the 5.23 acres) is zoned Medium Density Residential. There’s plenty of money in that.”

Queen reminded Rush that Palmer had succeeded in getting the entire 31.23-acre parcel rezoned from Rural (RU) to Medium Density Residential (MS-RD) in 2011.

“None of us wanted that,” Queen said. “You (Council) voted for it in spite of the residents’ objections. Now we have to live with that. Now Mr. Palmer has changed his mind and wants zoning (on the 5.23 acres) for commercial that creates even more traffic problems and is less palatable than what he asked for in 2011.”

Price assured the group that the 5.23 acres of commercial would be limited to that intersection.

“It’s not designed to spread down the road. It will stay at the intersection,” Price said.

But Rimer Pond Road resident Michael Watts told Rush that, “If you zone one parcel commercial on this road, then the property owner beside it will want commercial too. You say you can stop it, but you can’t. The person owning the next property will go to court against you (to get commercial).”

Palmer’s rezoning request is the first item on the agenda for the Tuesday, June 23 Public Hearing to be held at 7 p.m. in Council chambers located at the corner of Harden and Hampton streets. The public hearing is the only time residents will be allowed to speak to the issue. Those wishing to speak should arrive 10-15 minutes early to sign up. To request an email of the agenda packet, call Suzie Haynes at 576-2176 or email her at [email protected]