Council defers final industrial park vote

A large crowd attended a controversial town council meeting Monday night to weigh in on an industrial park zoning requested by Richland County on property in Blythewood. Jeff Ruble, Director of the county’s Office of Economic Development, is shown at the podium. | Barbara Ball

BLYTHEWOOD – Richland County’s request for Blythewood Town Council to rezone 162 acres between Fulmer Road and I-77 from Development (D-1) to Limited Industrial 2 (LI2) hung by a thread Monday night. Things weren’t looking good for approval when Councilman Bryan Franklin made a motion to defer the issue until Monday, Sept. 30.

That motion passed 3-2 with Mayor J. Michael Ross and Councilman Eddie Baughman voting against.

The acreage is part of the 1,300-acre Blythewood Industrial Park the county is proposing to develop west of i-77. Much of that property is in the Town of Blythewood.

At issue is the credibility of Richland County Council concerning promised covenants and restrictions to protect the community from any adverse effects that might arise from the industrial park.

“Tonight’s vote for or against is probably the most vital thing to determine the future of Blythewood since I’ve lived here,” Cobblestone Park resident John Moore said in his address to council during public input. “It is my feeling that it is political suicide for Blythewood to vote ‘yes’ without written assurances from Richland County regarding traffic, recreational areas, fire protection, etc…I have absolutely no confidence in Richland County Council,” Moore said. “I am not against the industrial park, but without assurances, we are going down the wrong path.”

Cobblestone resident Tom Utroska agreed.

Utroska insisted that council maintain control over the section of the industrial park that is in the Town of Blythewood.

“Richland County (should) agree to change the county’s proposed covenants and restrictions to provide for the Blythewood representative on the design review committee (for the industrial park) to have veto power over the balance of the design review committee with regard to any action occurring wholly or in part within the town limits of Blythewood. We need to maintain our control,” Utroska said.

“I think this rezoning, if approved, should be contingent upon a binding agreement between the town and Richland County similar to an IGA (intergovernmental agreement) wherein Richland County agrees to a time frame and funding for a new fire station near Blythewood Road to service the new industrial park.” Utroska said. He also asked for full funding for the current Blythewood fire station.

He also called for an agreement between the town, county and SCDOT that addresses the use of Blythewood Road and the proposed traffic circle at Community Road by truck traffic seeking ingress to and egress from the light industrial park to development on Community Road.

“If we don’t maintain it, it will be a traffic nightmare,” Utroska said.

Bill Shives, who’s residential property is adjacent to the proposed industrial park, urged council to consider what they are getting ready to turn Blythewood into.

“You say you want a class A industrial park,” Dennis Lane resident Jim Christopher, a commercial real estate developer said.  “The way to have a class A industrial park is by putting covenants and restrictions in place. Reading it, I thought, ‘Well, it could be worse.’”

But Christopher said he also felt it could be better.

“They [covenants and restrictions] don’t address traffic on Blythewood Road, and nothing is dedicated to public spaces,” he said. “Nothing about limiting railroad access. If you eliminate railroad, you won’t have a lot of the noxious uses in the park. I’d like to see the design development committee address that in [the covenants and restrictions].

When you put this document in place, that’s the most restrictive it will ever be. It will go backwards from there. Developers ask for this and that. Whatever you don’t get up front, you’re not going to get later after you guys vote on it. You need to get it now, up front,” Christopher said.

“Everyone wants a Class A industrial park,” he said. “So let’s design that in to it.”

“We’re trying to do everything we can to work with you.” Jeff Ruble of the Richland County Economic Development office, told the speakers and council. “We’ve listened. We’ve heard everything you said. I promise we’re not trying to do anything underhanded. We’re trying to work with you as best we can. The reason we’re doing this is to create good jobs and to bolster the tax base.”

Addressing traffic, Ruble said that any project in the park over 25,000 square feet needs a traffic study.

“And that traffic study will lead to results,” Ruble said.

Middlefield Road resident, attorney Stuart Andrews, disagreed.

“The reason traffic studies are inadequate,” Andrews said, “is that in virtually every case, they result in the identification of what improvements need to be made to accommodate increased traffic,” he said. “We don’t want a larger road on Blythewood Road, or a four-lane road with several traffic signals or even a six lane road with more traffic signals. That does not protect the integrity of the community. It invites and encourages more and more and more traffic. So traffic studies simply identify the increased volume of traffic,” he said.

“And there are a couple of sleeper provisions that I hope the council is aware of,” Andrews added. “First, there is an additional property loophole that expands without approval, without review and without any public participation. It is the incorporation of any unlimited amount of additional property into the 1300 acre industrial park. Zoning of course, would have to be complied with and as you say other laws would govern. But in the absence of that, if zoning is consistent and it’s certainly outside the county, the county can do whatever it wants. They can bring in other parcels that don’t even have to be contiguous to the park. So they could go behind the elementary school, behind Cobblestone and, frankly, anywhere they wanted to, and designate the additional property as being part of this very industrial park. And that is an ability that is open ended, without limitation. Without any review. It’s a unilateral right the county has reserved to itself that I see no justification for. I would suggest you strike it out,” Andrews said.

“There are a lot of things that can come up and bite us in ways that are unintended and unexpected,” Andrews told council. “And that’s the risk of rushing through too quickly with two days to review and negotiate it. And we’d like to ask you to permit more time to review it.”

Ross, who has spoken in strong support of the industrial park, said he believes the industrial park is the best and highest use for the property.

“If the industrial park doesn’t go there,” Ross has said in several meetings, “we could have thousands of more houses there and more traffic.” He said the council has been working almost two years with the county on the project.

Ross said Monday evening that the covenants and restrictions would be voted on at a later time, perhaps a year later.

After the vote to defer, Ross suggested that the deferred vote for the rezoning might be taken on Monday, Sept. 30 during a special meeting called for the final vote on the sale of the Doko Depot.

However, on Tuesday, when asked by The Voice what leverage would be available to the town to influence the covenants and restrictions if they are negotiated after the vote is taken, Ross said he felt sure that the county would have revised the covenants and restrictions and have them in place before the rezoning vote. That vote, Ross said on Tuesday, might now be delated until Wednesday or Thursday of next week when all five council members would be available to vote.

Richland County Council passed first reading Tuesday evening to rezone another parcel of the industrial park to Light Industrial (LI) that is in the county. These are the last two parcels of the 1300 acres to be rezoned.

For specific information about the date, time and location of the Blythewood Town Council meeting, call town hall at 754-0501.