Residents Beat Back Rezoning Attempt

Rimer Pond Road residents pack County Council chambers Tuesday evening. (Photo/Barbara Ball)

COLUMBIA (March 2, 2017) – The third time was not the charm for developer Hugh Palmer Tuesday night when he again came before County Council requesting a Rural Commercial (RC) zoning designation for a 5.23-acre parcel he owns at the intersection of Rimer Pond Road and Longtown Road West in Blythewood.

After almost an hour of passionate pleas from 30 or so residents in the Rimer Pond Road/LongCreek Plantation area asking Council to deny Palmer’s request to bring commercial zoning to their rural neighborhood, the road’s own County Council representative, Gwen Kennedy, made a motion to approve Palmer’s request. When Chairwoman Joyce Dickerson, who also represents a portion of Blythewood, called for a second, Council fell silent and the motion died for lack of a second.

Dickerson then called for a second motion for denial and 10 of the 11 Council members raised their hands to deny Palmer’s request with Kennedy casting the lone vote against the motion for denial.

Dickerson called for a break in the proceedings as the crowd of more than 100 residents, hugging and congratulating each other, left the chamber, leaving it almost empty.

During the Hearing, Palmer sat with his son, Patrick Palmer, a member of the Richland County Planning Commission, and lobbyist Boyd Brown who told Council members he was there to help Hugh Palmer win their votes. Patrick Palmer recused himself earlier in February when the issue came before the Commission. The issue when before the Commission ended in a tie vote that resulted in no recommendation being sent to Council.

Hugh Palmer has brought his rezoning request before Council twice previously, both times facing hundreds of residents in opposition, including Blythewood Mayor J. Michael Ross. In June of 2015 Palmer withdrew his request when it was apparent that he did not have the votes. Later that year, in November, Council denied the request with a 5-5 tie vote.

Hugh Palmer was on fire Tuesday night as he warned Council members during his two minutes at the microphone that his request was the victim of misinformation being spread on Facebook.

“I’m not proposing a landfill, a sewage treatment plant, a large grocery store or shopping center as some have claimed,” Palmer said.

While those claims had not been made by anyone during public hearings at either the Planning Commission or County Council, he did not say who made them or where they were made.

“I propose small retail development that would serve the needs of and be convenient to the surrounding area, to the people that already travel this area every day,” he said. “This area is changing, whether these folks in here like it or not.”

Palmer told Council his request falls within the boundaries of the County’s land use plan, has County staff’s approval and meets Rural Commercial (RC) standards.

“Those should be the questions that matter here tonight,” he said, dismissing the pleas of those present who live in the area.

While Brown, speaking for Palmer’s rezoning request, held up a petition that he said was signed by 125 people in the community who supported the rezoning, some opponents of the rezoning frequently reminded Council that the 125 petitioners didn’t show up at the hearing. County Council does not accept petitions.

Although Palmer told Council the goal of his request was to bring commercial conveniences to the neighborhood, speaker after speaker repeated, “We don’t want it. We don’t need it.”

“We enjoy the rural setting,” Christopher Henchy of Eagles Glen said. “No one on Rimer Pond Road wants commercial development on our road.”

Fifteen-year resident Kathy Johnson spoke against the rezoning and related an anecdote of how her car’s low fuel light came on at the intersection where Palmer is seeking rezoning.

“I was close enough to Blythewood that I was able to drive three miles to get gas before I ran out. I think we’ll be OK,” Johnson assured Council.

LongCreek Plantation resident Jay Thompson challenged County staff’s approval of the request and their conclusion that RC zoning was compatible with the Palmer property.

“RC zoning is not compatible with the Rimer Pond Road land use plan,” Thompson said. “The nearest RC zoning is to the west of Blythewood on Winnsboro Road.”

To make his point that commercial zoning would bring crime to the Rimer Pond Road area, Trey Hair handed out to Council members neighborhood crime maps off the internet that showed only a handful of crimes committed in a one-mile radius of Rimer Pond Road over a one-year period. A map of the same time frame and radius of a nearby commercial intersection was almost solid with symbols showing where crimes had been committed.

“RC zoning is described by the County as serving areas that are isolated or underserved,” Rimer Pond Road resident Ken Queen said. “We are neither. We have everything we need within three miles. One person’s wants and desires should not take precedent over hundreds of people who live in this community and oppose (this zoning),” he said.

The neighborhood’s representative in the State House, Joseph McEachern, spoke supporting the residents in their fight against the commercial rezoning.

Because the request was denied, it is not eligible to come back to Council for a year.