Rimer Pond Road Fends Off Commercial Rezoning

Heins Road Meets Different Fate

COLUMBIA – It was the Eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, but already the residents of Rimer Pond Road, LongCreek Plantation, Eagles Glenn and other nearby neighborhoods had a little something extra to be thankful for.

At a Richland County public hearing on the night of Nov. 24, a little more than a day before Thanksgiving morning, a vote by County Council landed in the corner of a group of Blythewood residents who, for almost a year, have fought a request by Hugh Palmer to rezone 5.23 acres on Rimer Pond Road from Residential Medium Density (RSMD) to Rural Commercial (RC). Had the rezoning, on property across from Blythewood Middle School, been approved, it would have been the first commercial zoning on the road.

Thirty or so of the residents protesting the Rimer Pond Road request addressed Council for more than two hours at the public hearing with many more in attendance. More than 100 residents signed a petition that was presented to Council objecting to the rezoning.

Palmer, representing his family’s business, Sycamore Development LLC, which owns the 5.23-acre parcel, said he was requesting commercial zoning because the property is unusable as residential property for which it is zoned.

“It has a traffic signal at the intersection, a cell tower on the property and an access easement to the tower,” Palmer said. “No one wants to live with these things in their yard.”

But Adams Road resident Michael Watts reminded Council that the cell tower was on the property when Palmer purchased it in 2007 and had it rezoned for residential use in 2008.

“The fact that lots on the 5.23 acres are no longer deemed acceptable for residential development is the cost of doing business,” Rimer Pond Road resident and commercial realtor Ken Queen told Council.

Noting that Palmer had already sold an adjacent 28 acres with 100 lots zoned for residential use, Queen added, “If you capture 100 lots out of a 28-acre parcel, and you don’t get to develop that 5 acres, I’m sorry as I can be, but you got your money out of the 28 acres and 100 lots. I do it. I know what the numbers are.”

Palmer’s son, Patrick Palmer, a commercial realtor with NIA Avant and longtime Chairman of the Richland County Planning Commission, represents the sale of the property and previously told residents that his family asked for commercial zoning to be able to bring needed conveniences to the residents on Rimer Pond Road and Long Creek Plantation neighborhoods.

One after another, the residents countered, saying they did not desire nor did they need any more conveniences than they already have. And most told of such horrendous traffic congestion near the proposed rezoning site now that it sometimes takes them 30 minutes to drive half a block.

“(They) are trying to force-fit commercial on an area where there is no demand. No one living in this area wants commercial conveniences at this intersection,” LongCreek Plantation resident Jerry Rega told Council. “We have 13 gas stations, seven pizza places and more than a dozen convenience stores within a few minutes. We do not desire or need more conveniences. The retail space is already saturated here.”

Eileen Rega added, “You can see here, tonight, that the citizens are against the destruction of our community and our quality of life just so a developer can pocket $350,000 per acre and move on. This is our rural community. It is where we live and raise our children.”

Geroge Burley told the Council that when he and his wife moved to the area they knew where they were.

“We can get whatever we need in 3-5 minutes. We want to keep it rural,” Burley said.

“The first commercial zoning can cause a tumbler effect, bringing other commercial zoning on the road, eventually destroying our rural way of life,” said Rimer Pond resident David Whitner.

Another of the road’s residents, Benjamin Montgomery, agreed with Whitner.

“My wife and I were insulted when this person said he was doing us a favor to bring conveniences to us. We know where the stores are. In 5 to 6 minutes we can get what we need,” Montgomery said.

“What makes this parcel unsuitable for residential all of a sudden is not really due to the cell tower,” said LongCreek Plantation resident Walter Johnson. “It’s due to the $350,000 per acre that he’s trying to sell it for.”

Linda Galson, president of and speaking for the LongCreek Plantation property owners association, added that LongCreek Plantation residents are opposed to Palmer’s proposed commercial zoning.

The theme of most speakers, including Liz Mull, was that they only wanted to keep what they had.

“I can stand in my back yard and hear cows moo,” Mull said. “I can stand in my front yard and hear I-77. We have it all, and it’s fabulous. Please don’t change it.”

Rep. Joseph McEachern (Dist. 77), who previously represented part of Blythewood on County Council, spoke for the residents.

“They have been fighting commercial on their road for years. I admire their tenacity to continue the fight to maintain their quality of life in this community,” McEachern said. “You’ve heard their voice. Now, by raising your hand, you are their voice. Now is not the time for commercial zoning (here). The residents are anxious and you can give them comfort.”

With that, Chairman Torrey Rush called for a motion, a second and a vote. There was no discussion. The vote was not unanimous. It was not even lopsided. It was a 5-5 tie. The room fell silent as County Attorney Amelia Lender was called forward by the Chairman to clarify the tie vote.

Then Rush announced, “The request for rezoning is denied.”

After a split second of stunned silence and disbelief, cheers and applause erupted from the audience. After eight months and five meetings, the residents had won. After about 10 seconds of celebration, the residents exited Council chambers, hugging and thanking each other, Rep. McEachern and Blythewood Mayor J. Michael Ross, who had stood with the residents.

It was not an easy win, and it is probably not over. The Palmers can request rezoning again on the 5.23-acre parcel after a year. Hugh Palmer could not be reached for comment. His son, Patrick Palmer, had not returned a phone call from The Voice at press time.

Heins Road

The Rimer Pond Road rezoning request, along with a residential rezoning request that allows more than 500 homes on 202 acres just a few miles north on Heins Road, were both on Council’s agenda that evening. Without any discussion, Council voted unanimously and with the support of the Heins Road residents’ representative, Joyce Dickerson, to approve the rezoning request in the otherwise wooded, rural area. Both rezonings had been opposed by hundreds of the area’s residents and were the focus of several front page stories in The State newspaper and covered by two Columbia television stations.

Dickerson said she told the Heins Road residents that the property was going to be developed anyway and that she felt she would have more control over it with the rezoning. Many residents expressed frustration that Dickerson had not held a second community meeting that she had promised before the public hearing. Dickerson approved up to 375 homes on the 202 acres, but did not specify in the meeting how the builder would be held to that number.


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