Apartments tabled for traffic study

The proposed 2.86 acre apartment complex would be located next to IGA. | Graphic: Ashley Ghere

BLYTHEWOOD – The site plan of a 48-unit apartment complex proposed next to the IGA in downtown Blythewood was tabled Monday night by the Planning Commission over concerns about the amount of traffic the complex would foist upon Blythewood Road near the I-77 on/off ramps.

If the site plan for the complex, called The Park, is approved and built, it will be the second apartment complex Prestwick Companies of Atlanta has brought to Blythewood. Prestwick built The Pointe, a low-income apartment complex, in October, 2017 on Main Street.

“So, you’re aiming for similar clientele at The Pointe?” Commissioner Malcolm George asked Devin Blankenship, Senior Development Manager for Prestwick Companies.

“This one [The Park] is a senior housing facility,” Blankenship said, “but it’s financed through the low-income tax credit program, so we consider it workplace housing. Same product.”

Town Administrator Brian Cook told The Voice that Prestwick is not restricted to use the property as a senior living use.

“They can use it for senior living or other uses,” Cook said. “It’s still multi-family housing that is permitted in the Town Center District no matter whether it’s low income housing or senior living.”

Asked by Commissioner Ed Kessler who Prestwick would be marketing the complex to, Blankenship said it would be marketed to seniors age 55 and older. He also suggested that because most of the residents would not be driving to work, the traffic from the complex would be about 25 percent of normal traffic.

“Most 55- and 65-year-olds I know are working,” Commissioner Ernestine Middleton said. “They are working because they have to work for one reason or another. It’s not like it was 25 years ago.”

Cook said that because the complex will have less than 150 units, it will not require a traffic study.

The complex has only one access point – Creech Road – which empties onto Blythewood Road where vehicles from two hotels, McDonald’s, San Jose, Hardee’s, Carolina Wings and several other restaurants and businesses already come together in a traffic whirlpool a short distance from the on/off ramps of I-77. In addition to the proposed apartment complex, an 88-room Hampton Inn is under construction across Creech Road from the apartment complex and will add to the traffic congestion.

The hotel traffic will have to pass twice in front of the entrance of the apartment complex to reach Blythewood Road.

Planning Commission Chair Rich McKenrick said the traffic out of the Hampton Inn’s parking lot, under an agreement with the Town, will have to turn right on to Creech Road, go past the apartment building, then around the cul de sac at the end of the road and back up Creech, past the apartment building a second time to reach Blythewood Road.

“The difficult part is going to be trying to make a left turn onto Blythewood Road from Creech Road to get to I-77,” Commissioner Derrek Pugh said. “As we speak right now, there are probably people sitting there trying to get out on to Blythewood Road.”

“We’re making a big mistake here,” Commissioner Ed Kessler said. “We have a major traffic problem at that intersection today without the traffic that will come from the new hotel and apartment building. We need to get the infrastructure in place first before we commit to putting more cars on Blythewood Road. The citizens of Blythewood are upset now and we don’t even have the hotel and apartments built. It’s going to be a mess,” Kessler said.

“I think the only way we’re going to have any success is to enforce a right turn only from Creech road to Blythewood Road,” Gordge said. He suggested that Prestwick collaborate with the S.C. Department of Transportation regarding a traffic study that was required for the Hampton Inn and come up with a feasible plan to move traffic more efficiently from Creech Road to Blythewood Road and on to the interstate.

If the site plan is not approved by the Commission it can be appealed to General Sessions Court.

McKenrick said he would hate for the project to not go forward, that Blankenship had worked so hard on it. He suggested the applicant follow Gordge’s suggestion, but stated that any expense for a traffic study would have to be borne by Prestwick.

Gordge made the motion to table the plan until Prestwick could get with SCDOT to come up with an acceptable answer for the traffic issue. The commission voted 5-0 in favor of the motion.

Prestwick is expected to come back before the commission in June.