Residents to get seat at table

COLUMBIA – When Rimer Pond Road and LongCreek Plantation area residents spoke at a County Council public hearing last month, Council listened. But apparently more than just Council was listening. In response to a long simmering resistance by residents to commercial zoning on Rimer Pond Road as well as zoning issues in other areas of the County, including Lower Richland, the County has announced that it is going to rewrite its Land Development (zoning) Code to better suit the citizens who already live In those areas, Ashley Powell, Manager of Richland County Planning Services told The Voice on Tuesday.

“This will be the first time in recent history, and maybe ever, that the land development code in Richland County has been completely scrapped and rewritten from ground zero,” Powell said.

In a press release on Tuesday, Tommy DeLage, Assistant Zoning Administrator for Richland County, invited County residents to a series of upcoming workshops that will be aimed at gathering information from citizens to start shaping the framework for the code rewrite.

“We want as many citizens as we can get to be involved in the rewrite process,” DeLage wrote.

The first set of three workshops over a two-year span will cover the same information, but will be held in different areas to accommodate more residents. The meeting closest to Blythewood will be held on Monday, March 27, from 6 – 8 p.m., at Longleaf Middle School, 1160 Longreen Pkwy, just south of LongCreek Plantation.

The meetings will be attended by County planning staff and under the direction of the County’s Development Services Department with assistance from McBride Dale Clarion of Clarion Associates, the planning group that helped update the County’s comprehensive land use plan in 2015.

The first half of the meeting will consist of a presentation explaining the rewrite and what to expect, Powell said, “In the second half, we’ll break out into group work sessions, spread out maps, look at the different areas of the county and hear feedback from the citizens. They may say, ‘You know, this is an area where we feel like the proposed zoning doesn’t work well and we feel you really need to pay close attention here,’” Powell said. “And we’ll be furiously taking copious notes to guide the process so that when we’re doing the rewrite, we’ll know we’re coming up with something that’s really functional and what the people who live there want.”

In terminology, Powell explained the comprehensive land use (comp) plan has in it the County’s future land use element.

“It’s a vision of how we see growth trending. The Land Development Code is the zoning law regulating how land can be used. It’s what punches that comp plan (vision) into action (law). But right now in some areas, like Rimer Pond Road, the people who live there are not liking what the county has planned for their area in terms of zoning, Powell said.

The land along Rimer Pond Road and vicinity is zoned mostly Rural (RU) and Low Density Residential (LD-RS.) But the comp plan, which calls for surburban growth in that area, all the way to Langford Road, doesn’t mesh with what’s on the ground –  primarily farms and large acre, wooded home sites.

At Council last month, and for the last 25 years that Rimer Pond road residents have been fighting commercial zoning on the road, the citizens cry has been, “But we don’t want it.” “We don’t’ need it.” That’s not how we want to live.” Yet the requested zoning was in the County officials’ plan and approved and defended by the County’s planning staff as being in concert with the comp plan guidelines. But it was not the zoning desired by the residents who lived in the area. They felt it didn’t meet their needs.

“So when the residents are saying, “We don’t want that. We like it like it is,” Powell said. “We want to find out what’s working and what’s not working. The purpose of the rewrite is not to amend the comp plan, but what we are hearing resoundingly from the community is that something we proposed in the comp plan, we got it wrong. We’re a little off base. So we have to go back and amend and I think Rimer Pond Road is a perfect example of that, because we have called it one thing in the comp plan and every time a rezoning comes up, staff has approved it base on the comp plan. But the neighborhood has said resoundingly, “No, this is not what we want. This is not what we see our neighborhood becoming.

“We want to protect the character of the neighborhood that the people moved out there for,” Powell said. “We need to amend based on the feedback we get from the people.”

Powell said Rimer Pond Road has been a learning experience for the County.

“I sat in on the Rimer Pond Road case recently and am familiar with what some of the complaints are there. We are looking for a land development code that speaks directly to informed citizens so that it reflects the character of what is actually there and what the community envisions will be there in the future,” Powell said. “We’re looking for community input. We want people to come to the meetings and say, ‘This is how I want my area to grow. This is what I want it to look like.”

For more information, go to weplantogether.org