Council, Developer No Closer to Terms

BLYTHEWOOD (Nov. 26, 2015) – Town Council members and Town attorney Jim Meggs continued, after a year of wrangling with DR Horton, to wring their collective hands and retreat into executive session to discuss what they say is the failure of Horton, a Cobblestone property owner and builder, to acknowledge a section of an ordinance amending Cobblestone Park’s Planned Development District (PDD) that was passed by Council last April.

That section requires Horton to acknowledge the terms of the amendment that require the builder to make traffic related improvements that may be prescribed or recommended by a Traffic Impact Study/Signal Warrant Analysis on sections of Syrup Mill and Blythewood roads.

But according to information provided to Town Hall by the S.C. Department of Transportation (S.C. DOT), no traffic related improvements were required after Horton commissioned both a preliminary traffic study and a Traffic Signal Warrant Analysis in July for the specified locations, Town Administrator Gary Parker told The Voice.

“S.C. DOT has confirmed that they are satisfied that at this time that nothing needs to be done about either a traffic signal or road improvements on Syrup Mill and Blythewood roads in connection with traffic impact on Cobblestone Park due to Horton’s development of the Primrose neighborhood,” Parker said. “However S.C. DOT has asked DR Horton to commission a second TIS (Traffic Impact Study) and Traffic Signal Warrant Analysis after the builder has completed 200 homes, built from mid-2015 forward in the new Primrose section of single-family homes.”

The homes Horton is currently building in older sections of Cobblestone Park are not affected by this traffic study requirement.

Even though the ‘acknowledgement’ required of DR Horton in the amended ordinance may now be moot, since no traffic related improvements are required, Council still wants Horton to acknowledge in writing that the company will follow through with S.C. DOT’s requirement that Horton commission the second studies after building 200 homes in Primrose, Mangone told The Voice.

Three of the Town’s five Councilmen – Bob Mangone, Mayor J. Michael Ross and Tom Utroska – live in Cobblestone. Over the past year, heated conversations have broken out in Council chambers with DR Horton representatives as negotiations were hammered out regarding Horton’s development of the property which has generally not been welcomed by the neighborhood.

Residents in Cobblestone have complained that the homes built by Horton could lower their home values and suggested that the additional homes might cause traffic congestion at the neighborhood’s egress and ingress on Syrup Mill and Blythewood roads. Council approved the PDD zoning only after Horton agreed to commission the TIS/Signal Warrant Analysis and make any required improvements.

When the matter came up at last week’s Council work session, Meggs told Ross, Utroska and Mangone – the only council members in attendance – that he was going to discuss that information with them in executive session.

“(There are) two positions,” Meggs said. “We don’t have any acknowledgement (from Horton) and there’s been some dialog between the attorneys for DR Horton and myself. That would be the subject of the executive session.”

Utroska asked Meggs if there had been any more discussions with Horton.

Speaking in muffled tones that were not entirely picked up by the recorder, Meggs told the three Council members, “That’s right. There are some developments.”

Asked by The Voice before the executive session how the state’s Freedom of Information Act provided for Council to discuss the PDD acknowledgment issue in private, Meggs replied that he would be giving legal advice.

Asked if there was a pending legal matter, Meggs replied, “No.”

Pressed further, Meggs said the executive session was a matter of attorney/client privilege. He said there was a disagreement with DR Horton.

When councilmen Utroska and Mangone were asked to comment about the legality of the executive session, Mangone replied that he follows the Town attorney’s advice. Because he lives in proximity to the Primrose section of Cobblestone Park, Ross recused himself from the discussion, voting and from the executive session as required by law.

Council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Monday at 7 p.m. at The Manor. After conducting old business, the three newly elected councilmen will be sworn in. The public is invited to attend.