Low-Income Homes Stall at Planning Commission

BLYTHEWOOD – An $8 million low-income apartment complex proposed in downtown Blythewood hit a snag at the Planning Commission meeting Monday evening when Commissioners expressed concern about increased traffic from the project and the developer’s lack of a fleshed-out plan to manage storm-water runoff.

The proposed project, named The Pointe at Blythewood, is planned for Main Street behind the Langford-Nord house and across from Blythewood Consignments in the Town Center District. The developer is Prestwick Companies of Atlanta. Devin Blankenship, Senior Development Manager, told The Voice last month that while the apartments are considered affordable housing they are not Section 8 housing.

Clayton Ingram, a spokesperson for the S.C. Housing Finance Authority told The Voice that the developer will receive a federal tax credit of $699,052 each year over a 10-year period to construct the apartments. He said residents are required to have an income between 50 and 60 percent of the mean income for the area where the apartments are located.

“The property is zoned Rural (RU) and meets multi-family zoning requirements,” the Town’s Planning Consultant Michael Criss told the Commission. “The developer is only required to come before the Planning Commission for site plan approval.”

Prestwick Companies was represented at the meeting by Robert Byington Jr., an architect with Studio 8 Architecture Design, and Mark Binsz, Vice President of Engineering with Site Design, Inc. of Greenville.

Before the project’s traffic and storm water plans were met with questions from some of the Commissioners, the development was pummeled during the public comment segment by several of the 25 residents who showed up in opposition to the apartments.

“My sister and I own 2 acres next to that property,” Harold Boney told the Commissioners. “I’m not against the project. I’d like to see it come to Blythewood. But I don’t like the location.”

Cindy Shull voiced concerns about increased traffic.

“The amount of traffic already in this area is only going to get worse,” she said.

Referring to a copy of the Town’s Master Plan, Shull said, “The Master Plan was developed to accommodate new density in a way that preserves quality of life.”

She said this development does not do that.

Irene Shepard said she felt the development would take away from Blythewood’s country lifestyle.

“What you’re bringing in is low-income housing,” Shepard said. “Bringing in 56 of these apartments is bringing in crime and trouble.”

Shepard’s daughter, Danielle Andes, agreed with her mother.

“This is not what this town needs,” Andes said. “People who sit on this board have not lived here for 40-plus years. They are people from the outside who have moved here, have come with a little bit of money and ruined what we had.”

Kathy Johnson had not yet arrived at the meeting when her name was called to speak, but a man who said he was her husband, spoke on her behalf saying he “grew up in the inner city, so I’ve seen this type of housing. I want to keep Blythewood like it is. If you want big city problems, start with low-income housing and you’ll have big city problems.”

Criss said, however, that multi-family housing is not only allowed in the Town Center District, but welcomed.

“There is not an explicit density limit for multi-family housing,” Criss said, “other than what will fit on the lot with adequate landscaping, parking, buffering and up to four stories in building height.”

The proposed apartments are two-stories tall with a pitched roof. They will offer one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

Commissioner Ernestine Middleton asked if affordable housing was welcomed because of the need to add affordable housing in the community.

“Yes,” Criss answered, “and to also bring people downtown, to bring vitality and business customers to the Town Center District.”

After making a short presentation to the Commission, Binsz was asked by Commission Chairman Malcolm Gordge how the developer proposed to mitigate the effects of increased traffic on Main Street and at the intersection of McNulty Road and Main Street.

“We will get DOT’s (S.C. Department of Transportation) input on any final design plans,” Binsz said.

“What about construction traffic?” Gordge asked, “Can you mitigate that?”

Binsz said that would be the contractor’s responsibility.

When asked what the company had done to determine the amount of storm water they would be able to dispose of, Binsz answered that while the company didn’t have a final design, their initial estimates would not require a runoff pond.

“Let me speak from my own personal point of view,” Gordge concluded. “There are still significant uncertainties regarding traffic mitigation and we don’t have the recommendations from SCDOT on what they would require when faced by traffic during construction. We also don’t have the full details on the management of storm water, so I don’t feel as though we can recommend or deny approval based on what we have.”

Commissioner Buddy Price agreed.

“I like the concept, the idea that we have a project such as this, and I understand the foot traffic and bringing folks into our businesses and those kinds of things,” Price said. “My concern is that it’s in the wrong place. I’m mostly concerned about the traffic. Right now the traffic is extraordinary because of the re-routing due to the flooding, but even under normal circumstances it backs up.”

“We will comply with what SCDOT requires,” Binsz said. “They will dictate what we can and cannot do.”

In an email to the Town’s Administrator Gary Parker last week regarding whether SCDOT would require a traffic study of the developer, SCDOT Engineer Tyler Clark told Parker, “At this time we don’t have plans to require a TIS (Traffic Impact Study); however, this does not mean we will not require mitigations along US-21 as needed. We will know more after we meet with the engineer/developer.”

Gordge called for a deferral of the matter until the next meeting on Nov. 2. The vote was 3-1 with Commissioner Don Sanders voting for approval of the site plan. Commissioner Marcus Taylor was absent.