Rimer Pond vs. Palmer Tuesday night

BLYTHEWOOD – The zoning fate of the Rimer Pond Road area will once again be in the hands of Richland County Council as members cast their votes Tuesday night on whether the road will become commercial or remain rural. The hearing was scheduled for October, but land owner Hugh Palmer who is requesting the rezoning, asked to have the hearing rescheduled for Dec. 19. Many of those who oppose the rezoning say that date could favor Palmer if many of the families who usually show up at Council to speak out against the rezoning are out of town due to the schools’ Christmas break which begins Dec. 16.

For almost a quarter century, Rimer Pond Road area residents have fought to keep commercial zoning out of their neighborhood. Hugh Palmer and his son Patrick Palmer, who live in Columbia, are among a long string of developers/land speculators to repeatedly ask County Council for commercial zoning on the road.

For the past three years, the Palmers have requested commercial zoning on 5.23 acres of land they own at the intersection of Longtown Road West and Rimer Pond Road. The property sits across the road from Blythewood Middle School.

There is no commercial zoning on the road.

“For the Palmers, a lot of money is riding on the success of this request…maybe as much as $2M, maybe more,” Rimer Pond Road resident Trey Hair told County Council earlier this year. “There’s no money in it for the residents. All we want is to just to be able to maintain our rural way of life, what we moved out here for.  Once the first commercial zoning request is approved, they will start coming down like dominoes along Rimer Pond Road.”

The commercial issue

The Palmers say they want to bring commercial uses to benefit the neighborhood. The residents responded that they don’t need those commercial uses and don’t want them.

Residents say commercial uses in neighboring areas have brought crime and more commercial zoning, and that many of those commercial buildings are frequently vacant. They have given examples of gunshots being fired at nearby convenience store/gas stations.

Residents told Richland County Planning Commissioners earlier in October that the Neighborhood Commercial (NC) zoning the Palmers seek on Rimer Pond Road would allow a convenience store with gas pumps in the midst of their residential and farm properties, bringing crime to the neighborhood. The Commissioners assured them that convenience stores with gas pumps are not allowed in NC zoning. However, Richland county Planning Director Geonard Price said the residents were correct, that convenience stores with gas pumps will be permitted on the Palmers’ 5.23 acres if it is rezoned to NC.

Although there is currently no other commercial zoning in the area, the County’s planning staff recommended that the Planning Commission vote for the rezoning, saying it “would be consistent with the intentions of the 2015 Comprehensive Plan and that it would not be out of character with the existing surrounding development pattern and zoning districts for the area. According to the County zoning ordinances, the property, as it is now zoned, is also consistent with the intentions of the Comp Plan. The residents say the only reason to change the zoning to commercial is for the Palmers to enrich their coffers at the expense of the neighborhood’s quality of life.

While the Comprehensive Plan specifies that the NC zoning district is designed to be located within or adjacent to residential neighborhoods where large commercial uses are inappropriate, but where small neighborhood oriented businesses are useful and desired, Rimer Pond Road area residents say such commercial uses are not desired by the residents, and that to vote for them would only be accommodating developers, not the people who live there.

“After Council defeated the Palmers’ last commercial zoning request on Rimer Pond Road in February, Ashley Powell, Manager of Richland County Planning Services, was quoted as saying, “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.

“If we want to protect the character of the neighborhood that the people moved out there for,” Powell said, “we need to amend (the Richland County comp plan) based on the feedback we get from the people.”

While Powell set up several meetings to gather that feedback, 10 months later the County has still not issued any reports on the results of those meetings. According to Tracey Hegler, Director of Planning and Development for Richland County, those reports won’t be made available until around February, 2018, long after Council votes on whether to establish commercial zoning on Rimer Pond Road. So the results of the meetings are being held up by the County planning staff until after they could be of any benefit to the areas (including Rimer Pond Road) that they are supposed to protect.

Just before the Planning Commission voted earlier this month on the Palmers’ commercial zoning request, Commissioner Heather Carnes confessed that she had been leaning toward voting for Neighborhood Commercial zoning this time because she’s a city girl and appreciates what she feels NC zoning can generally do for rural communities who desire commercial uses.

“Even so,” she said, “in this particular situation, given what Rimer Pond Road is and that there is no commercial zoning for, like, forever, in this area, I am going to vote against this request for commercial zoning.”

While Commissioner Beverly Frierson voted in favor of the Palmers and against the residents as did David Tuttle, Christopher Anderson and Planning Commission Chair Stephen Gilchrist, the motion for commercial zoning ended in a tie vote which meant it failed to pass. As a result, no recommendation, for or against, will be sent to Council when it meets Tuesday evening, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m. at County Council chambers in the County building at Hampton and Hardin Streets in Columbia.

Those wishing to speak for or against the commercial zoning request must arrive a few minutes early to sign in. Council will have three votes on the issue. If at any of the three meetings they vote against the rezoning, then the issue will be denied.

The 5.23 acre parcel at Rimer Pond and Longtown West roads was part of a larger 31.23 acre tract the Palmers purchased in February of 2008. In December of 2008, the family wanted a different zoning and asked County Council to rezone the parcel from Rural (RU) to Medium Density Residential (RS-MD). Council granted their wish, and the Palmers sold off all but the 5.23 acres to developer Kevin Steelman, president of LandTech, who subsequently built homes on the property.

By June, 2015, the Palmers wanted to up-zone the 5/23 acres and asked Council to rezone it – this time, from Medium Density Residential (RS-MD) to Rural Commercial zoning (RC). Palmer listed the 5.23 acres for $350,000 per acre. When it was apparent to the Palmers that they did not have the vote over a large contingent of Rimer Pond Road residents at the June 23, 2015 County Council meeting, they withdrew their rezoning request prior to the meeting.

Five months later, the Palmers brought their request for commercial zoning back to County Council, this time complaining that the 5.23 acre parcel was undesirable as residential property because it had a cell tower on it. But the cell tower had been on the property when they purchased it. Council’s vote ended in a tie resulting in a denial of the Palmer’s rezoning request.

Last Feb. 23, the Palmer’s again asked Council for commercial zoning on the 5.23 acre parcel. More than a hundred residents attended the County Council hearing to ask that their neighborhood be spared from the Palmer’s commercial zoning request. In a bold display of bias, the road’s own Council representative, Gwen Kennedy, left her chair at the dais during the meeting, walked outside the chambers with Boyd Brown, a lobbyist hired by the Palmers to persuade Council to vote for commercial zoning.  After about 10 minutes, the two came back in to the meeting. Kennedy took her seat at the dais and subsequently made the motion to approve the Palmers’ commercial zoning request. The motion failed as she was the only one who voted for it.

Kennedy did not attend a community meeting on Oct. 18 in Blythewood that was called by the residents. Instead, Calvin Jackson met with the residents to hear their concerns.


What businesses are allowed outright on the 5.23 acres under the Neighborhood Commercial zoning designation?

  • Convenience Store with gas pumps
  • Liquor Store
  • Tobacco Store
  • Bar and Other Drinking Place
  • Auto Dealership
  • Laundry and Dry Cleaner
  • General Merchandise Store
  • Grocery Store
  • Cigar Bar
  • And more…