PC begins process to rezone Red Gate

BLYTHEWOOD – The Blythewood Planning Commission has begun the process to rezone a 143-acre undeveloped site across the interstate from downtown after developers failed to initiate construction of a planned mixed-use development.

The large wooded site, which is known as Red Gate Farms, sits on Blythewood Road between Syrup Mill and Muller Roads. It lies across Syrup Mill Road from Cobblestone; across Muller Road from Muller Road Middle School and across Blythewood Road from Fairfield Electric Cooperative.

The property is currently zoned PD (Planned Development), the town’s site-specific zoning designation for planned or mixed-use development.

It was given that classification years ago, explained Town Administrator Brian Cook, after a developer presented a plan for a mixed-use development that was to include 233 single-family homes, 300 apartments, and 36 acres of commercial development.

The zoning for this property has been on the books since the town annexed it in the mid-2000s, Cook said, but the project – and other, subsequent proposed variations – never occurred. According to county records, the bulk of the land is now owned by Arthur State Bank.

In its Monday night meeting, the Blythewood Planning Commission discussed rezoning the property based on a provision in the town’s zoning ordinance that mandates rezoning when a project with the PD classification fails to progress within two years.

After some discussion, the commission voted unanimously to direct town staff to craft a proposal to rezone the property to D-1, a development district designed for large tracts of land on the fringe of the town’s developed core.

“It puts the power back in our hands, especially since we don’t know what the uses are going to be for this particular parcel of land,” said Planning Commission Member Dereck Pugh, speaking in favor of classifying the property as D-1. “It will give us the opportunity to review it again once the [future] developer puts in the application.”

Cook said the commission discussed the issue of this property in 2018 and again in early 2019, when a new proposal for a zoning amendment and lower-density development was made but never moved forward.

“The applicant withdrew the application before town council could take a vote on the proposed project,” Cook said, “and it stands today with nothing happening on the property from a permitting or development standpoint.”

The D-1 zoning classification, Cook said, is a kind of holding pattern for land that’s likely to be developed in the future, allowing for uses like single-family residential, parks and recreation, and religious or government buildings, but requiring zoning approval for more intense types of development.

“The district is intended to provide for large tracts of land located primarily on the fringe of urban growth where the predominant character of urban development has not yet been fully established, but where the current characteristics of use are predominately residential or agricultural with scattered related uses,” according to the town’s zoning ordinance.

“It is further recognized that future demand for development will generate requests for amendments in zoning designations to remove land from the D-1 classification and place it into other more intensely developed classifications as a natural consequence of urban expansion,” the ordinance states.

Planning Commission Chairman Rich McKenrick said intentions are to hold next month’s meeting in person with social distancing measures in place with the option to participate via Zoom for commissioners and members of the public who are uncomfortable attending in person, with social distancing measures in place with the option to participate via Zoom for commissioners and members of the public who are uncomfortable attending in person. The current property owners will be informed of the meeting and invited to speak.

Cook said the town is currently undergoing a technology upgrade that should make it possible to facilitate this plan from a technical standpoint.

“We should’ve done something about this long ago,” said McKenrick of the need to address the zoning at Red Gate, referring to the property as a “golden nugget” on the edge of town. “The PD has sat out there for way too long and is probably more dense than we would even want to approve at this point.”

Cook said there is no rush to complete the rezoning, and the town will follow the process required.

“I think that D-1 probably brings it back to the intent of the master plan and comprehensive plan,” said commissioner Malcolm Gordge.

“Let’s hear what the immediate property owners have to say about that,” Gordge said, “as well as the residents of the town.”