Confusion Reigns Over Rezoning

Council Tables Request, Seeks Legal Advice

RIDGEWAY (Sept. 15, 2016) – Confusion over Ridgeway’s zoning ordinance continued to plague Town Council last week as a motion on second reading to amend that ordinance to rezone .82 acres at the fork of highways 21 and 34 failed to carry. Instead, Council opted to table the amendment and consult an attorney.

“Our citizens feel like we don’t know what we’re doing up here,” Councilman Donald Prioleau said after the vote on second reading fell 1-3. Councilman Heath Cookendorfer was the only affirmative vote at the Sept. 8 meeting.

Prioleau was one of three Council members to vote in favor of first reading of the zoning ordinance amendment during Council’s Aug. 11 meeting. That vote stirred controversy in the face of a petition in opposition to the zoning change, presented to Council prior to the Aug. 11 meeting.

That petition, according to Councilwoman Angela Harrison, represents an official protest, in light of which a three-fourths vote of Council is required to pass a zoning change. While the S.C. Municipal Association last month told The Voice that three-fourths of a five-member council is four, during the Aug. 11 meeting Council was unclear on the mathematics.

Ridgeway business owner Russ Brown, a former Ridgeway resident and former member of Town Council, owns the lot in question and is seeking a zoning change from residential to commercial. Brown, who has plans to construct a small office building on the lot, told Council last month that any protest of his request should have come before the Planning and Zoning Commission at their July 12 public hearing on the matter. The Commission voted to recommend Brown’s request on a 5-2 vote.

And while Sara Robertson, a nearby resident, presented Council with the petition – which she said included the signatures of 50 people opposed to the zoning change – before the Aug. 11 meeting, an official letter of protest was not submitted to the Town until Aug. 12, a day after first reading passed on a 3-2 vote.

As Council began discussion last week prior to second reading, Harrison again cited the protest rule requiring a three-fourths vote.

“The protest rule is for the Planning and Zoning Committee to hear,” Cookendorfer said. “It’s not for the Council. The Council does not have a hearing. At this point and time, if there’s still any question of legality or illegality, anyone who opposes it and is on the letter of protest, can at this point and time seek legal advisement and file a case with the civil court.”

Harrison disagreed and said that the protest was of a decision that Council was making.

In a memo to Council reviewing the process, Zoning Administrator Patty Cronin-Cookendorfer wrote that the Planning and Zoning Commission had correctly followed the Town’s ordinance. Furthermore, she wrote, any protest can only be made by owners of lots “contiguous to the area in question,” according to the Town’s ordinance. Brown’s property, she noted, has only one contiguous lot “according to the legal definition.”

That lot is owned by Robert Johnson, a signatory of the protest.

Cronin-Cookendorfer also wrote in her memo that, after discussing the matter with the County Zoning Administrator, a three-fourths vote on a five-member council is three.

“You’re telling me three-fourths of five is three and the Municipal Association says it’s four,” Harrison said during the Sept. 8 discussion. “And we’re not listening to our citizens at all. I don’t want to debate this issue. I think it’s fair to our constituency that we at least get legal advice and table it until we get advice.”

After second reading failed, Council agreed to authorize Mayor Charlene Herring to consult Danny Crowe, an attorney she said was recommended to her by the Municipal Association.

“I’m for that (seeking legal advice),” Prioleau said. “Before, I voted for it. The decision I made, I don’t think was wrong. I’m for rezoning, but I don’t want our citizens to feel like we’re not doing our job.”

Herring said she was not sure how much an attorney would cost the Town to review and interpret its own laws.

“Our citizens will pay for it,” Prioleau said.