TC nixes relaxed zoning on Blythewood Rd.

BLYTHEWOOD- The Blythewood Planning Commission unanimously rejected a proposed zoning amendment that would have relaxed design standards for new businesses fronting Blythewood Road East of I-77. The proposed amendment would have eased setback restrictions, allowing new buildings to set back from the road as far as 25 feet and install drive through lanes and parking spaces between the building and the sidewalk.

The amendment flies in the face of Blythewood’s 2005 Master Plan that tightened setback limitations to 6-12 feet from the road right away for new builds. It was intended to create a traditional look for the Town Center, giving it an old-town feeling.

“I feel like if you make an exception to one and then another, you might as well scrap the whole plan,” Commissioner Donald Brock said. “And you’re essentially letting businesses tell you what they want to do come in versus you telling them what they need to do to come in.”

Paul Moscati, a former Blythewood councilman who worked on the original Master Plan, was on hand during the July 21 meeting to share the process that went into the plan’s development.

“The decisions I, Mr. McLean and others made on council probably won’t bear fruit for another 30, 40, 50 years,” Moscati said. “We talked about that we don’t want Blythewood road to look like Two Notch Road. We don’t want it to look like Killian Road. We wanted to make this a livable community.”

Blythewood Chamber of Commerce Chair, Belinda Portnal, who is also employed by BB&T Mortgage that recently sold the property for a reported $1 million, spoke in opposition to Moscati, stressing that if the Master Plan has not been effective in drawing businesses it may be time for a change.

“I don’t want this to look like Killian Road at all, that’s why I live in Blythewood. But by the same token I don’t like the way it looks now. Kinda looks a little poverty ridden,” Portnal said. “The Master Plan, if it’s not doing what it needs to, you say let’s give it some time. I think we’ve given a lot of time and clearly the businesses aren’t coming.”

“But if we don’t like the way it looks now, why would we pass a zoning ordinance that would allow it to continue to look this way,” Commissioner Michelle Kiedrowski asked Portnal.

Talks of tweaking the Master Plan come just seven months after Portnal’s company, BB&T sold the property across from the Waffle House, that is now being rumored to be a site for a Taco Bell. Portnal cited the current ordinance as the reason BB&T did not move forward with development.

“I’m with BB&T, as you know we owned that lot there on Blythewood road for a long time and we never built and the current ordinances kind of speak for themselves as to why we didn’t build,” Portnal said.

Both Moscati and Commissioner Cynthia Schull said they suspect that the sudden hurry to develop the property for the fast food restaurant may be the catalyst for the amendment.

“We all know the rush, it’s the developers’ rush, the developer controls this part of the process. There’s that little piece of Blythewood Road,” Moscati said. “It’s up to all of us who live in this town, who are citizens of this town, to help protect it.”

“There’s a lot that would be impacted by this. It was sold in December for over $1 million,” Schull said. “So I suspect that some of this is coming because there is a very lucrative business, the kind of business coming that can afford to spend a million dollars on a lot, and I would suspect it’s Taco Bell or something similar.”

The 16,000 -18,000 cars that travel along Blythewood Road and I-77 does not make it conducive to be a pedestrian or biker friendly area, the Town’s Economic Development consultant, Ed Parlor. He suggested the McNulty Road area, under the guise of the Master Plan, could be transformed into a more fitting Town Center.

“Perhaps McNulty where you have a library, where you have a Sheriff’s office, a post office, churches, recreation, a school…” Parlor said. “You have neighborhoods growing around that area which could be walkable and bicycle friendly.”

While Council voted not to recommend the zoning amendment proposal, they agreed they would like to seek out more information and take suggestions from the Blythewood Architectural Review Board before the matter appears before the Town Council on August 24. Jim McLean, Co-Chair of the BAR and a Councilman who also worked on the Master Plan, brought up the BAR’s role in the discussions.

“You have the responsibility to the BAR to offer and revise the standards based on a case by case basis,” McLean said. “What we’ve done for the town and how we could deal with the situations that are currently out there, I think pretty much speaks for itself.”

I would just ask that you allow the BAR to take a little more collaborative role in this,” Moscati said. “I’m sure there’s some type of compromise in between rather than just scrapping the ordinance.”

The Commission will meet again before Town Council hears their recommendation and makes the final decision as to whether or not to adopt the proposed ordinance to relax the zoning.