Council rolls back zoning requirements on new builds along Blythewood road

Council passed, unanimously, amendments dismantling key elements of a zoning ordinance put in place by a previous administration aimed at eventually creating a more attractive streetscape in the Town Center District by requiring new buildings to be constructed closer to the road right-of way.

Ordinance 2017.010 will allow new buildings on Blythewood Road between I-77 and Highway 21 to be built 25 feet or more from the road right-of-way and will allow drive thru window traffic to be situated in front of the buildings, between the façade and the road right-of-way.

Some members of Town government have said the amendments are being passed to accommodate a Taco Bell fast food restaurant that hopes to come to Blythewood Road.

While the Town’s Planning Commission recommended, also unanimously, against Council passing the amendments, Council members did so Monday night with little comment other than to lecture the lone resident who spoke against the amendments.

“This [amendment] is the opposite of what I envision for the town,” Donald Brock of the Oakhurst neighborhood told Council. “I don’t consider us having a true town center. And the idea of us adding more of what we have, when the community has asked for something else, we have no reason to sacrifice the look and feel and community standards of our town to accommodate more of the same,” Brock told Council members.

“We have the opportunity to truly build a unique and vibrant community,” Brock said. “The speed with which Blythewood is growing will attract numerous businesses, but we must be selective which businesses we allow in our community. Adding more of the same will not enhance the look, feel and attractiveness of the town. It simply will keep the status quo which is unacceptable. I ask Council to vote ‘No’ on this proposal.”

After Brock finished, Mayor J. Michael Ross, who has been pushing for passage of the proposed changes for several months, took after Brock.

“I certainly have a comment. This is the final reading. There are only two people [Brock and former Councilman Paul Moscoti who spoke against the proposal at three town meetings] who have taken this position that our community will go to hell in a handbasket. These are four lots that have sat vacant a lot longer than you have lived here, Mr. Brock.

We aren’t changing Blythewood’s history. We aren’t taking the vision away from Blythewood. We have looked at Blythewood Road and we believe that the potential is in McNulty. And we all want that,” Ross said. “We don’t pay any taxes in Blythewood. Businesses support this town. So this is an opportunity for us to generate more income, to do more things, to develop McNulty Road one day.”

“There may be more people who have that passion.  We aren’t going to destroy Blythewood with this vote. We don’t think how you may think. But everyone whose sitting here is thinking what’s best for Blythewood,” Ross said. “And those landowners have paid taxes on that land. We have not had one new development since I’ve been mayor. We want to give another opportunity,” he said.

“Those are my comments to you. Any other comments?” he asked looking toward the other Council members.

Councilman Tom Utroska said he had heard from four people, including Jim McLean, opposed to the amendment.

“I told him the Board of Architectural Review would still look at everything including signage,” Ross said.

Then Councilman Larry Griffin tore into Brock.

“When I hear people come here and say they want to make this a sleepy town like it used to be, but the way it used to be is nowhere close to where it is right now. And if we were to take the same approach, Mr. Brock, and we were to look at certain situations and if this is the way I want it, but it’s not best for the town, then we’re doing the town a great injustice,” Griffin said. “So when this vote comes up, I’m in a quandary, because how do we want growth and where do we want growth. Who makes that decision? Is it the community? The town? What will be best for Blythewood? What makes Blythewood so attractive? So when I see the growth, it needs to be controlled growth. We need to make decisions whatever is better,” he said.

“I know and feel the growth that has happened from the dirt roads. I grew up here. My roots are here. I just want everybody to slow down and look at it. It’s not personal. It’s personal for the town,” Griffin said.

While four residents spoke out against the ordinance over the last few months, only two people, the property owner, Marie Berry, and her realtor, Darren Rhodes with Coldwell Banker, spoke in favor of the proposed amendments.

The amendments passed 5-0.

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