Rimer Pond Road Zoning Battle Looms

BLYTHEWOOD (Feb. 23, 2017) – Residents from the Rimer Pond Road/LongCreek Plantation area are expected to make their umpteenth trip down to Richland County Council chambers Tuesday evening to continue a years-long battle to keep their rural residential neighborhood free of commercial zoning.

For the last three years, the battle has been fought over the same property, a 5.23-acre parcel across from Blythewood Middle School. The parcel is owned by developer Hugh Palmer, the father of longtime Richland County Planning Commissioner and commercial realtor Patrick Palmer.

Hugh Palmer is asking that Council rezone the property to Rural Commercial (RC), a zoning designation that could, the Palmers say, allow such businesses as pizza restaurants and dry cleaners. It is the third time the rezoning request has come before Council in the last two years. In 2015 it was tabled, and later that year a tie vote resulted in denial of the request. Because it was denied, Palmer had to wait a year to reapply for the rezoning.

When the issue came before the Planning Commission earlier this month, a split vote (3-3) resulted in no recommendation for or against the rezoning being forwarded to County Council. More than 75 people opposed to the rezoning attended that meeting and 34 spoke out in opposition to the rezoning.

The County’s planning staff (employees of the County) recommended, as it has previously, that Palmer’s commercial rezoning request be approved, pointing out that, according to the County’s zoning summary, the RC District is designed “for areas within Richland County where residents of the more isolated agricultural and rural residential districts and residents located beyond the limits of service of the towns can receive convenience merchandising and services.”

But residents, addressing the planning commission, pushed back, repeating again and again as they came to the microphone, that the area is neither isolated nor located beyond the limits of service.

“Within a four-mile radius of my home, there are four pizza restaurants, three dry cleaners, a Dollar Store, a Dollar General, three large grocery stores and at least five service stations,” said LongCreek Plantation resident May Vokaty. “There are plenty of commercial resources available to this area.”

LongCreek resident Jay Thompson disagreed with the planning staff’s suggestion that the requested zoning is in compliance with the county’s objectives for land use.

“I hold in my hand a map of future land use. If you look at this map, this neighborhood is shown as medium density, not rural. That directly contradicts this proposed zoning for Rural Commercial. It does not fit.”

Trey Hair of Rimer Pond Road pointed out that there is no commercial zoning anywhere on the road.

“The only beneficiary of this zoning change will be the applicant who stands to make a large sum of money from the property,” Hair said.

“The Palmers are the ones who came to Rimer Pond Road 10 or so years ago and changed the parcel from Rural zoning to Residential Medium Density (RS-MD),” Rimer Pond Road resident Ken Queen said. “We didn’t want that, but the Palmers wanted it. They never even came out to meet with anyone in the neighborhood and they have not this time.”

Some of those who addressed the Commission hinted at the planning staff’s motives in recommending approval of the rezoning request again and again.

“The Planning Commission is tasked to oversee the strategic growth of our County, to keep the big picture in mind and not make decisions based on personal requests that are not in the interest of the community,” Rhett Sanders said.

“That a single person could do this to a neighborhood is unbelievable,” LongCreek Plantation resident Benny Solton told Commissioners.

Hugh Palmer could not be reached for comment.

County Council is scheduled to vote on the issue at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 28 in Council Chambers of the Richland County building at Hampton and Harden streets in Columbia. Those who wish to speak for or against the rezoning request should arrive a few minutes early to sign in.


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