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.



  1. Marcus Polk says

    3/4 of 5 = 3.75, rounding up makes 4. Simple math that can be done by 3rd and 4th graders.

    • Maggie Sue says

      Seems that the Town Council experienced the same math problems when adjusting the water rate the last time. Maybe standardized testing should be used to check the proficiency of Council Members. I’m sure one of the elementaries students in town would be glad to administer it.

    • A. Belton says

      1+1=5 – Angela H.

  2. Courtney Thompson says

    I don’t understand the dilemma? This property is clearly on Main Street with other commercial properties, why not allow it? Why would a Mayor and Council turn away positive growth for a small town, don’t they realize other towns and counties would welcome this? Seems like a waste of taxpayer money to hire an attorney when some common sense would lead you to believe that this is an easy decision to approve and move on. This has been dragging on for months, looks like a lot of procrastination and indecision to me….

  3. Ned Flanders says

    This is clearly a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) situation… you have a elected officials with a simpleton mentality that can’t see the forest for the trees. These council members are worried more about votes and re-election and are scared to make a decision because they don’t want to rock the boat of Ridgeway’s minority, even if it is for the betterment of the town. They are going to ride the fence until they spend taxpayer money on an attorney to tell them they are wrong, but then again, they are also hiring a lawyer so they have someone else to blame.

  4. Hire the attorney.
    A citizen of Ridgeway

  5. Maggie Sue says

    The property was purchased by Russ Brown for $10,000.00 in 2014 while he was on Ridgeway Town Council. That corner was & still is (for now) zoned residential and appears to have been owned by the same owner as the property where the new fire dept is located. It’s a possibility that it was all owned by Fairfield County on both sides of the street. Brown Realty had listed the property for sale where the new fire department is and had up a for sale sign. It was commercial and there was talk around town from the beginning of possibly building a fire department there due to a conflict with the railroad over ownership & leasing of the property where the old fire dept. had been standing for years. I believe the railroad owned the land and the county owned the fire department building. The corner Mr brown purchased never had a for sale sign up. It’s public record that Fairfield County had the assessed value before Mr. Brown’s purchase as $20,000.00. Once he purchased it ,the assessed value was changed and dropped to $10,000.00 for lower tax purposes. I don’t think this is how it is suppose to work !!!! If a family member sells a piece of property that is assessed at $100,000.00 to another family member for $5.00 – does the assessed value drop to $5.00 ? NO. It sure does appear to me that the good old buddy system is alive and well, even with the details of that purchase – not just the taxes. Does anyone know if and how many of the Ridgeway town council Members have given themselves preferential treatment & have pulled all kinds of back door deals to their benefit over the years ? How about the people who work at the Fairfield county courthouse ? Robert Johnson is a long time resident who owns and lives on the property contiguous to the property under debate for rezoning. He has every right to be concerned. As a citizen – when you turn your back on another resident – it is just a matter of time before you may be the only citizen left standing and no one else is there to speak up when they come for you. The people who have been on Council a while have trouble interpreting the ordinances they have already passed much less math or anything else. There should be more competition during elections – not just one person running. Ridgeway is NO Mayberry.

  6. Maggie Sue says

    I don’t know Councilwoman Harrison, however I am very proud of her for challenging the math used on the two thirds vote ; investigating the issues; and for being THE Council person to actually listen to the voices of concerned citizens and stand up to make sure their voices are heard. She appears to care deeply for the community ; and the rights of all of the individuals involved – including those of Mr. Brown. Councilwoman Harrison appears to be demonstrating outstanding leadership qualities by making sure decisions are being made properly and legally.

  7. A. Belton says

    Angela… that you??

  8. Maggie Sue says


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