Visitor’s Center shares Palmer’s post

BLYTHEWOOD – As the residents of Rimer Pond Road and the LongCreek Plantation neighborhood continue to fight a Columbia family’s fourth attempt in as many years to bring commercial zoning to Rimer Pond Road, the Blythewood Chamber of Commerce Visitors’ Center raised the hackles of those residents by inserting itself into the emotionally charged zoning issue with a Facebook post on Monday, Jan.29.

After posting seemingly innocuous information about a community meeting for residents concerning Hugh Palmer’s commercial zoning request on Rimer Pond Road, the Visitors’ Center’s Facebook page also featured a link to the Facebook page titled ‘Voice of Everyone – Blythewood’ that openly supports the commercial zoning and is administrated by Hugh Palmer’s son, Patrick, former longtime Chairman of the Richland County Planning Commission.

While the name of Palmer’s Facebook page, ‘Voice of Everyone – Blythewood,’ is strikingly similar to The Voice of Blythewood, it is not in any way associated with the newspaper.

The Palmer page, which was shared by the Visitors’ Center on its own Facebook page, promoted the commercial zoning request and featured a photo of a colorful, neatly landscaped row of four shops proposed on the Palmer’s Rimer Pond Road property. The page suggested that seemingly benign businesses such as a Sylvan Learning Center would be the kinds of businesses coming to the Palmer’s property which is across from Blythewood Middle School. According to Richland County zoning codes, however, other less desirable uses such as a convenience store with gas pumps, are also a permitted uses in the Neighborhood Commercial zoning requested by the Palmers.

Patrick Palmer’s page offered itself as a safe place where residents could freely voice their opinion on the matter, stating that the page was ‘not judgmental.’ However, as the comments against commercial zoning in the area began piling up on the page, they were promptly removed by the page’s administrator and those posters were subsequently blocked from posting. Screen shots of the blocked pages poured into The Voice.

“…comments that we posted on the Facebook page, ‘The Voice for Everyone – Blythewood,’ were deleted by the page administrator,” LongCreek residents Dan and Amy Wrightsman, who oppose the commercial zoning, stated in an email to The Voice.

“Palmer’s Facebook page, ‘Voice for Everyone – Blythewood,’ was bombarded with dozens of negative comments from residents,” Rimer Pond Road resident Trey Hair stated in an email to The Voice. “He deleted those comments and subsequently blocked those folks from being able to comment further. But residents had left 38 negative 1-star reviews on the site which the administrator was unable to delete per Facebook rules, so the entire page was ultimately deleted by its administrator,” wrote Hair who owns and operates ‘Keep it Rural,’ a Facebook site that serves as a hub of information for those who oppose the commercial rezoning in their neighborhood.

By the next morning, the flurry of angry, though civil, comments on Palmer’s Facebook page, that was being shared on the Chamber’s Visitors’ Center’s page, prompted Blythewood Mayor J. Michael Ross to call Switzer to complain about the Chamber’s Visitor’s Center’s page for sharing Palmer’s page. Ross has been a strong supporter of the residents’ fight against commercial zoning on Rimer Pond Road for several years.

“The Town government has been in support to keep this property [on Rimer Pond Road] rural from the beginning and will continue this by attending the [Windermere] meeting Jan. 31…I really want to focus our efforts on stopping this rezoning,” Ross said in an email to Hair’s Keep it Rural page. “Everything anybody needs is in Blythewood or on Killian Road.”

While Switzer took everything concerning the proposed commercial zoning off the Visitors’ Center’s Facebook page, he defended himself and the Chamber, telling The Voice in an email that “nobody on the chamber staff is siding with Palmer.” They also did not side with the community’s residents. Switzer placed blame for the entire posting incident on “our social media girl,” who, Switzer said, “did the post-share on her own…she thought it was informational.”

The ‘media girl,’ Heather Holt, was hired by the Chamber earlier this year as a specialist in Facebook and social media. The Visitor’s Center is funded by The Town of Blythewood through the Accommodation Tax fund.

Ross reiterated, however, that he stands firmly with the residents against commercial zoning on Rimer Pond Road and that the postings on the Visitors’ Center’s Facebook page did not reflect the Town’s stance on the issue.

“The Visitor’s Center’s Facebook page is supposed to be used to bring tourism to Blythewood,” Ross said.

”it was…only to generate a discussion regarding that location based on the discussions at the council meeting,” Holt said in an email to The Voice after the posts were removed. But the Mayor, during that council meeting, had spoken out against the commercial zoning request and in support of the residents. Holt’s Visitor’s Center’s Facebook page did not take that stand.

“I thought (regrettably so) that sharing a post from that [Voice of Everyone – Blythewood] page would start a conversation about the proposed development,” Holt stated in a post on the ‘Keep it Rural’ Facebook page, in which she shielded Switzer and the Blythewood Chamber of Commerce from any blame for the postings. In an email to The Voice, Holt stated, “It was information I thought people would be interested in knowing.”

County Council will cast their first vote on the issue on Feb. 27, at 7 p.m., in Council Chambers in the County building at Harden and Hampton Streets. The agenda and packet for the meeting should be available from the County the week prior to the meeting. To obtain a copy of the agenda and the entire meeting packet via email, call Tommy Delage at 576-2172 or email him at [email protected] or call 576-2190.

Community information about the meeting can be found on the Facebook page, ‘Keep it Rural.’ Patrick Palmer, whose family is requesting the commercial zoning on the road, has posted signs at the Rimer Pond Road site asking residents to call him at 556-3340 for information.