Teacher Village lacking site plan

WINNSBORO – As Fairfield County school officials press forward with plans to build a subdivision catering to teachers on property it owns behind the district office, those plans appear to be stymied until the property is rezoned. But the district has not yet submitted the required site plan for that rezoning to be initiated, according to Town of Winnsboro officials.

School district officials are seeking to rezone the property from C-2, which allows commercial uses, to a residential zoning classification to accommodate single family detached dwellings, Winnsboro Zoning Director Billy Castles said.

But Castles said it is not possible to determine what zoning the school should apply for until it submits a site plan.

“That site plan must comply with the zoning district. We can’t change zoning to comply with the site plan,” Castles said.

Castles added that the very limited discussion about the Teacher’s Village has primarily been with the school district, not the Fairfield County Education Foundation which initiated and is coordinating the project.  Castles noted the district as of Tuesday had only submitted preliminary drawings, not a site plan, for the Village.

“What the district submitted was not materially sufficient (for determining zoning),” Castles said.

“The site plan must include details about the development, such as lot size, setback measurements, where the homes are to be located on the lots, water and sewer infrastructure, street paving, curbing and other technical details,” Castles said.

The Winnsboro Planning Commission was scheduled to discuss the Teacher Village at a meeting Wednesday after The Voice went to press.

“This workshop will hopefully explain exactly what they [district officials] need to do for their site plan to comply with the zoning,” Castle said.

Once a site plan is submitted, the approval process after that could take between eight and 12 weeks, Castles estimated. That time frame, he said, does not include other prerequisite steps, such as providing stormwater solutions and subdividing lots for tax purposes, functions falling to other county and state agencies.

“This is strictly a zoning issue for us,” Castles said. “It has nothing to do with approval or disapproval of the project.”

Skeptism grows

Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy said he hasn’t formed an opinion about the proposed “Teacher Village,” but he does have concerns.

“I don’t know how providing education for the children of Fairfield County morphed into a real estate development and home rentals,” Gaddy said.

“My impression was the purpose of the school district is to educate our children and prepare them for higher education,” Gaddy added. “I have concerns that we’re diverting our focus from education to real estate.”

Dr. J.R. Green, district superintendent, has said the teacher village has two primary purposes – to recruit and retain more teachers and also to encourage economic development.

“If you live in Columbia, you drive by 15 schools every day. It’s harder to retain people if they are constantly traveling from Lexington, Columbia or Rock Hill,” Green told Fairfield County Council members on Oct. 22.

“Imagine 70 people living here making $50,000 a year,” Green added. “That’s a $3 million impact to our community, people going to our restaurants, going to our grocery stores, going to our pharmacies.”

At Monday night’s council meeting, Fairfield County residents speaking during public input held a different view.

One of them was Lake Wateree resident Jeff Morris, who said even if the Teacher Village fills with teachers, only a small percentage of Fairfield teachers would actually be living there.

Morris also questioned the motives of hedge fund owners, who in exchange for a seven-year tax abatement, would finance and maintain the development.

“It would seem to me that if these properties do not house teachers or first responders, then the abatement shouldn’t be available,” he said. “Otherwise we’re giving a public benefit for a private enterprise for no return to the public. I would urge you to be very careful about how you agree to that.”

Ridgeway resident Randy Bright agreed.

“The first speaker on the teacher village was spot on. You should be very, very cautious,” Bright said, emphasizing the second ‘very.’

As proposed, the Teacher Village would be built on 11 acres of land the district owns behind the district office off U.S. 321 Bypass in Winnsboro.

The idea is to provide low cost housing for teachers, with rents ranging from $600 to $900 a month. However, only teachers would qualify for the discounted rents, made possible through taxpayer funded subsidies from the state.

If the development isn’t fully populated with teachers, housing would become available to district office staff, followed by first responders. They would not qualify for the subsidy and would pay $900 to $1,200 a month in rent, district officials have said.

The Teacher Village property is part of a larger parcel that also includes the district office. The district acquired the land from the S.C. Department of Transportation, which deeded the land to the district in 2013 for $5, according to Fairfield County property records.