Residents’ input sought on zoning

COLUMBIA – For the second year in a row, Richland County has invited county residents to participate in what the County calls the rewriting of the County’s Land Development Code (zoning ordinance) and regulations. A flier announcing meetings, on Feb. 5 and Feb. 7, states that residents’ input will help guide the rewrite.

But some residents who attended those meetings last year claimed during public presentation at Richland County Planning Commission and County Council meetings in the fall of 2017 that they never heard back after making their suggestions for changes and new directions for zoning. Indeed, County officials concede there have been no reports on the results of last year’s meetings.

Tracy Hegler, Director of Planning and Development for Richland County, told the Voice prior to a Planning Commission meeting last September, that no reports would be forthcoming until the second group of meetings in February, 2018.

Last year’s meetings came just after Richland County Council voted against a request by Hugh Palmer for commercial zoning on Rimer Pond Road. During that process, residents were unhappy to learn that the County’s Comprehensive Plan (a document directing future zoning in an area) designated future development along Rimer Pond Road as suburban (medium density zoning), not rural as it is currently zoned. Much of the controversy surrounding the Palmer’s commercial rezoning request is focused on that issue.

Much of the land in that area is made up of farms and large acre properties that back up to LongCreek Plantation. The residents from both areas have expressed to Richland County Council and to the Planning Commission during the past several years a desire for properties in that area to remain rural in the future. They said that once commercial zoning is approved for one property, it will spread down the road, destroying the neighborhood’s quality of life and even safety.

“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,” Ashley Powell, Community Planning and Development Services Manager, said last year. “We want to protect the character of the neighborhood that the people moved out there for. We need to amend (the Richland County Comp Plan) based on the feedback we get from the people.”

But residents in the Rimer Pond Road area have said in Richland County public meetings that they are looking for the mapped-out long range vision for their area to change from suburban back to rural. Nothing on the County’s website weplantogether.org indicates the County has taken any actions to make that happen. Some Rimer Pond Road area residents have asked Council officials during public meetings this past year how they will know the County is actually going to implement their suggestions.

The County has announced again this year that the two February meetings will be held as part of an ongoing process to put into action the County’s Comprehensive (Comp) Plan which was last updated in 2015.

“The next step is the rewrite of the Land Development Code,” Powell said. “The Code is what punches that Comp Plan (vision) into action (law). This Code undergirds the vision set forth in the Comp Plan with enforceable standards for development. This moves the County from envisioning the kind of place where we want to live, to creating it,” Powell said.

The County’s press release states that to learn more about the implementation of the 2015 updates to the County’s Comprehensive Plan, visit weplantogether.org. But there are no discernable updates from last February’s meetings on the site to indicate residents’ suggestions are being implemented. And there is no specific information as to changes residents in the Rimer Pond Road/LongCreek Plantation area or any other area say they want in the long term for their area to be zoned.

Two code rewrite meetings are scheduled:

Monday, Feb. 5, 6 – 8 p.m., at Council Chambers, 2020 Hampton St., Columbia. The meeting will be live-streamed to the libraries in Blythewood, Eastover and other locations that can be found on the project website, weplantogether.org. The meeting can also be viewed online on RCTV or at rcgov.us.

Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2- 4 p.m., at the Community Room at the Decker Center, 2500 Decker Blvd., Columbia.