Cobblestone Residents Reach Boiling Point

BLYTHEWOOD (Dec. 1, 2016) – A group of 50 or so Cobblestone Park residents unleashed their fury on Town Council Monday evening for having amended zoning in March 2015 to allow developer D.R. Horton to add 143 additional homes and six roads to the Primrose section of Cobblestone Park.

Residents speaking at the meeting said the recently initiated development was a surprise to them and is destroying green space that Horton sales representatives promised (when they purchased their homes in 2014 and 2015) would be preserved. Some said they paid premiums of up to $20,000 for those lots, but that the developer’s promises are not in writing.

One after another, residents told Council that the developer is now clearcutting trees, leaving the neighborhood open to noise pollution from I-77, blasting rock near their homes to carve out spaces for foundations for the new homes, destroying the current residents’ privacy from I-77 and other homes and leaving the current infrastructure vulnerable to increased traffic and seeping ground water.

The residents’ angst over the construction and road expansion was matched only by their angst with three Cobblestone Park neighbors who sat on Council at the time of the zoning amendment. Two of those Councilmen – Tom Utroska and Bob Mangone – voted to allow the new development.

The third Council member/neighbor, Mayor J. Michael Ross, was required by the S.C. Ethics Commission to recuse himself from voting since he owned a lot in the area affected by the rezoning. Also worrisome to the neighbors was the fact that the three sitting Councilmen lived in the front of the neighborhood while those affected by the rezoning live in the back section.

The Town’s attorney, Jim Meggs, defended the Councilmen, saying that all three requested a decision from the S.C. Ethics Commission and were advised that Utroska and Mangone, who has since moved away, were not subject to recusal.

Resident Madelyn Mills told Meggs that the residents’ own attorney informed them that he believed the two Councilmen should have recused themselves.

Meggs asked Mills to have their attorney call him, saying that he (Meggs) felt her passion.

“You do not feel my passion,” Mills shot back. “You can’t possibly feel my passion. You can’t possibly know how we feel.”

Mills, fighting back tears, also said the group’s attorney believes Council’s executive session for ‘legal matters’ at the April 26 meeting prior to the vote for the rezoning was illegal.

Following the meeting, Cobblestone Park resident Lenore Zedosky handed The Voice a copy of a letter she sent to Council dated Nov. 18, that drove home Mill’s assertion. The letter stated, “The S.C. Freedom of Information Act (gives) limited reasons why the Council may hold a meeting closed to the public (executive session). A discussion of D.R. Horton’s request to build more houses in the subdivision, even though he was lessening the total residences by eliminating townhouses, does not fall within any of those reasons.”

Mills also expressed worry that the blasting being carried out by D.R. Horton near their homes could affect their homes’ foundations.

“On April 26, you opened a can of worms that is affecting us, not the people at the front (of the neighborhood),” resident Doug Shay told Council. “I couldn’t sleep last night because of the noise from I-77.”

Resident Phil Orr reviewed for Council a list of multimillion dollar court cases nationwide that he said Horton had recently lost or settled because of problems similar to those in Cobblestone Park. He said the group is now going to reach out for help from the Governor’s office, the S.C. Attorney General’s office, area TV stations and other local and statewide organizations.

“But,” he told Council, “you have the unique opportunity to right the wrong of the proposed expansion of new homes in areas that were promised to remain as undeveloped green space in our neighborhood.”

The most stinging rebuke came from resident Joe Lupia who accused Council members of a quid pro quo in connection with a wetlands he said exists in the area where Horton plans to build the homes.

“How did it get from a wetlands to 143 homes?” Lupia asked, “What did the Town of Blythewood get for this?”

Lupia also said the Town should try to find out whether the stone being blasted in his neighborhood is Serpentine rock which produces asphalt when exploded.

“It could be,” Lupia said.

While speakers during public testimony are usually limited to three minutes, none of the several Cobblestone Park speakers were interrupted, with some speaking up to 10 minutes.

Following their presentations, Ross thanked his neighbors for their comments, saying simply, “We hear you.”

Asked following the meeting if there was any possibility that Council could intervene in a process that had been set in motion by the April 2016 zoning amendment, Meggs said he would reserve his answer for his client (Council).

“D.R. Horton must still come to the Planning Commission for preliminary plat approval,” Town Administrator Gary Parker said, “and the Commission can dictate road locations and interconnections and a few other things as stated in Chapter 153 of the Town Code.”

Utroska told The Voice that he was doubtful Council would be able to reverse what is allowed by the current zoning.

The next Council meeting is Dec. 19.