PC approves apartment site plan

Planning Commission approves site plan for 48-unit apartment building next to IGA.
Engineer: Traffic Impact at Creech & Blythewood Rd. will not be Significant

BLYTHEWOOD – The Blythewood Planning Commission gave its approval Monday night to a site plan for the proposed 48-unit senior living apartment complex planned for Creech Road.

“I don’t see any reason that I can’t vote to approve this project based on zoning and use,” said Chairperson Rich McKenrick before the planning commission’s 5-1 vote. McKendrick spoke at length about the reasons he would vote for the project.

“Yes, there’s a traffic problem. Yes, it’s going to exacerbate it. But… that’s the town council’s purview, not the planning commission’s.”

Edward Kesser, the lone dissenting voice, said he’d talked to community members who felt like a traffic nightmare would be created by any additional development in the area around the Interstate 77 interchange.

“There’s a general feeling right now that there’s enough traffic on the Blythewood Road, regardless of what side of the Interstate you’re on,” Kesser said.

Ernestine Middleton reminded her fellow commission members of a past development project that the commission had voted down based on similar concerns, leading to an unpleasant legal battle that they ultimately lost.

She didn’t name names, but that battle was fought with the same company that’s looking to develop the senior living apartments, over a previous low income apartment building project in town.

Malcolm Gordge said the development of senior housing on Creech Road is not the problem.

“I don’t think this particular project should be penalized because we already have a bad traffic problem,” he said. “If this housing project doesn’t go ahead, we still have got a bad traffic problem at that intersection. It’s our responsibility to figure out ways and means of mitigating that.”

The motion for approval was made by Gordge and seconded by Erica Page. Derrek Pugh also voted in favor. Marcus Taylor was absent from the meeting, which was held by video chat via Zoom.

The focus of the planning commission’s discussion was on the results of a traffic study that was done to determine the project’s anticipated impact, as a senior living facility, to traffic on Blythewood Road.

The analysis was performed by Roger Dyar, who also did the traffic impact study for the recently approved 88-bed Hampton Inn that’s being built on Creech Road, just across from the proposed apartment site.

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

The bottom line: with just a handful of cars added to the road during peak times, the traffic impact of the new apartment complex is “not really significant,” said Dyar, who explained the study to the commission members at length – and noting that Blythewood could use a plan to deal with existing traffic congestion.

Asked if the traffic study had been done during peak school traffic hours as requested by the commission, Dyar said he couldn’t recall whether it was or not.

“I think there’s some long-term things with controlled access management that may need to be looked at on Blythewood Road,” he said, “but the impacts we’re seeing from this project are very minimal, and with just 10 cars in the mornings and 12 in the afternoons, you’re not going to see a big difference from what you have out there today.”

Another question that was raised was whether the complex could be converted from senior living into standard apartments, which tend to generate more traffic.

Speaking for developer Prestwick Companies, Devin Blankenship told the planning commission that the project’s financing through a state tax credit program will require it to remain senior apartments for 20 years, that it can not be modified.

“Senior housing is one of the lowest impacts on traffic you could have from a land use standpoint,” he said. “I look forward to continuing our partnership with the city of Blythewood and creating more homes for residents.”

Atlanta-based Prestwick is also the developer of The Pointe at Blythewood, a low-income apartment complex in town, which was controversial when it was built a few years ago.

While there are various possible solutions to alleviate traffic flow concerns, Town Administrator Brian Cook said the long-term solution is the extension of Creech Road.

“In the future – the very near future – I hope that Creech Road will be extended. It’s a high priority for the town to get that extended for economic development and for traffic concerns, to alleviate some of that,” Cook said.

He said two possibilities are being considered: extend the road around the marsh and bring it out to Main Street in between Blythewood High School and St. Mark’s church, or extend it for traffic from the interstate and Blythewood Road to flow south onto North Firetower Road and come out on Highway 21.

Bonnie Creech Martin, who, with her sisters, donated the land for the current Creech Road, attended the Zoom meeting along with her son, Jay. Donating the land for the road made it possible for the family to be able to develop more of their land that extends from Hwy 21 to the interstate. She spoke for her family, which is selling the land to the developer for the senior living complex.

She noted that, based on contract with the town, the family cannot be denied curb cut and driveway access to develop their properties along Creech Road.

“We’re also planning to donate the land further through their property for the future Creech Road extension,” she said. “We’re very interested in Blythewood and the future of Blythewood.”

Cook did not go into detail about what factors would determine the ultimate path of the road’s extension.

While the shorter extension might provide a pressure valve for traffic, it wouldn’t open up much additional land for development.

The longer extension would open up access for the family to develop property along the extended Creech Road and create a direct link between Exit 27 and a large tract that’s been considered for industrial development – a proposal that’s been controversial in the past because it would bring traffic through the North Firetower Road neighborhood.

For the senior living apartment complex, the next step is to go before the Blythewood Board of Architectural Review, which is planning to meet in person on June 15.