Proposed wastewater treatment plant site includes sports complex, water recreation, shopping and more

FAIRFIELD COUNTY – With a $1.8 million land deal being proposed by Fairfield County, a partnership between the county and the Town of Blythewood is on track to check two big items off of local wish lists: a much-needed wastewater treatment plant and a ballfield complex for youth sports teams.

Fairfield County Council Chair Neil Robinson said both projects are part of a long-range vision that could turn Interstate-77’s Exit 32 in Fairfield County into a new hotspot for development.

Fairfield County Administrator Jason Taylor agreed, adding that if all the pieces come together, it could be a great benefit to the citizens of both Fairfield County and Blythewood.

“The way you grow a community is not just by shuffling money around inside the county or town; you need to bring in outside dollars.” Taylor said, touting both the tournament-hosting potential of a sports complex and the potential draw of adjacent commercial development made possible by the wastewater treatment plant.

“There’s a synergy here – one thing helps build upon the other, and all those things help the critical thing that we’re focused on here [with this project], the wastewater treatment plant,” he said.

The need for increased wastewater capacity has been high on Fairfield’s priority list recently as most of its existing capacity is already in use. The county has brought in considerable new industry and accompanying new jobs during the last three years or so, leaving Fairfield with only about 30,000 gallons of wastewater capacity – a fact that limits current potential for both industrial and other types of development all over the county, and is now prompting some industrial prospects to look elsewhere, taking their jobs with them.

“Adding more wastewater capacity is key to the future development of commercial and residential in the county. Without the new capacity, the creation of new jobs, shopping opportunities and residential development will be severely limited,” Taylor said.

“We had to find a site for the plant that has direct access to a stream that can handle the expected effluent and will not require a long-distance pipeline to a discharge site,” he said. The county settled on property on Peach Road at the intersection of Cook Road just west of Exit 32 in Fairfield County, just one exit north of Blythewood.

As it turned out, the property for sale is about 385 acres, much larger and more expensive than what’s needed for the plant. 

Enter Blythewood, where the need for ballfields has become a high priority with the exponential growth of the community. Building a sports complex was something newly elected Mayor Bryan Franklin talked about a lot in his campaign last fall. Blythewood, home of the popular Blythewood Youth Baseball & Softball League (BYSBL), has the revenue potential from accommodation and hospitality tax to purchase property for a sports complex but has not so far found a suitable/affordable site.

The Plan

The proposal is for the county to develop the wastewater treatment plant and an extensive recreation park on 225+/- acres it purchased on the south side of the property, and Blythewood is considering purchasing 60+/- acres in the center of the property for the sports complex. The current land owner, Joseph Richardson, would retain about 100+/- acres on the north side of the property for private multi-use development, including commercial, possibly with apartments above.

In addition, the county portion of the park – a site not suited for industrial development – will include the wastewater treatment plant concealed in a heavily wooded area and a 50-acre pond that, Taylor said, is a potential showplace, ideally suited for fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and maybe a water’s edge event venue as well as a network of recreational trails.

“Because the wastewater treatment plant is located on the property, it could reduce development costs on the site as much as $2-$3 million since they won’t have to run pipes, acquire easements and install pump stations,” Fairfield County Economic Development Director Ty Davenport added.

Taylor said a partnership between Fairfield and Blythewood and the landowner just makes sense.

Blythewood on Board

Franklin agrees.

“It’s just too good of an opportunity for us to pass up,” Franklin told The Voice. “While our council has not yet voted on this plan, we’ve discussed it in executive session and I know that all of our council members are excited about it. We’re looking forward to moving on it.”

That move, however, could take as much as six to eight months, he said.

“Blythewood doesn’t have a big budget, but we could pay for the land over a three-year period of time. We just need time to assess it, get our funds together, and let Fairfield get the zoning on the property.”

Having grown up in Blythewood, Franklin said he has fond memories of playing on the three BYSBL fields when he was young. Those fields, today, can barely accommodate the number of kids who want to play. Franklin said he would like to see the town have a state-of-the-art facility like this to support the BYSBL while also bringing substantial revenue to the town.  

“Located on I-77 in the center of the state, the sports complex is going to attract kids of all sports from all areas of the state,” Franklin said. “And the commercial area is what the residents of Blythewood want to see – more restaurants, more things to do and close to home – just five miles from our Blythewood exit.”

A Mutual Benefit

“Both Blythewood and Fairfield will benefit from what the other has in the park,” Davenport said. “For instance, Fairfield would have joint use of Blythewood’s sports complex and neither would have to pay fees. A rendering of the complex features up to eight baseball fields and five soccer/football fields among other amenities that might include a hotel with balconies for viewing games.”

From a development standpoint, Taylor said, the wastewater treatment plant and sports complex projects are just the beginning. In addition to meeting current needs, pairing needed infrastructure with a tourism-drawing amenity will promote good, sustainable development at Exit 32.

That could help the county land a large manufacturing facility, Taylor said, such as an auto plant, just down the road at the future Exit 32 megasite. Such a facility, he said, would be a stable provider of jobs for the county and could also help attract the kind of planned, commercial development on Richardson’s acreage that might be anchored by a major sporting goods store and include hotels, restaurants and retail, which would bring in revenue during sports tournaments as well as serving Interstate travelers.

Annexation

Because of the proximity of the property to the Town of Blythewood along Boney Road, the option is on the table for Blythewood to annex the entire 385 acres and reap considerable revenue from not only the sports complex, but the accommodation and hospitality taxes generated by the hotels and restaurants, as well as franchise fees, business license fees and building permits from the commercial development.

The long term plan could be extremely beneficial for the citizens of both Blythewood and Fairfield County and would certainly raise the fortunes of all of the residents of Fairfield County on many levels, including jobs and new residential neighborhoods, Taylor said.

“The county would collect property taxes on all three parcels. The site generates about $4,000 annually in taxes now,” he said. “A single business in the commercial section could bring in well over $100,000 annually in property taxes. The property tax potential for the county is in the millions”.

County officials say the several hundred acres adjacent to the 385 acres are prime for the kind of nature-based housing subdivisions that have replaced golf courses as the preferred type of residential development across the country.

Davenport said the Exit 32 interchange, itself, is a valuable asset with I-77, a major travel artery between Columbia and Charlotte, a continuous resource.

“An interstate exit like Exit 32 costs about $50-75 million, a resource that we need to take advantage of,” he said.

Master Planned

“I would really like to see this development taken to the next level,” Taylor said. “We hope to develop a master plan and development agreement on top of everything else, including tax incentives and other incentives that make it more desirable for someone to come in and develop the site to its best and highest use.

“We’re not just dreaming here,” Taylor said. “I think all of this can be reality. We want to create a traditional, attractive community in the commercial section that may have upstairs apartments, and where people can easily take advantage of the proposed parks and the easy access to Columbia on the interstate. We want to be proactive and get ahead of this [growth at Exit 32] with a development that is well thought out and sustainable.

“All this is driven by the wastewater treatment plant,” he said. “We have to have the plant to support the future megasite just six miles up the road. And when that plant hits, this 385 acres is going to explode. Commerce has told us we have to be ready because when it does hit, it will be hard at that point to catch up. I think that if we do this public-private partnership right, everything will work.”

“At this point, of course, it’s just a proposal, a public-private partnership between the county and the landowner to spur development at Exit 32 to support the wastewater treatment plant and the plant supporting growth, hand in hand,” Taylor said. “The county is also trying to work with Blythewood to accomplish some of the goals that their mayor has set, such as annexation and recreation. We can all three win here because our interests are aligned to have improved access for all of our citizens to quality of life amenities such as new parks, shopping options and residential choices – all the things we can potentially have on that 385 acres,” he said.

Though there are still a lot of details that remain to be worked out on the project, all parties are hopeful.

Timeline

The timeline, of course, will be measured in years. Robinson said 3-4 years is realistic for the $32 million plant to go through permitting and construction, after which its capacity will be available to serve new development in the county, both commercial and residential.

In addition to potential state funding contributing to the plant’s construction, Robinson expects to pull $5 million from county coffers, cover $8-10 million with the passage of a new penny sales tax, and cover the rest with revenue generated by end users.

While Robinson said the penny tax is the most effective way to fund the plant, the tax is dependent on voter approval on Nov. 3.

“With the penny tax, council wouldn’t have to raise property taxes,” Robinson said.

The wastewater treatment plant’s two-million-gallon capacity, expandable to four million gallons, is expected to serve Fairfield County’s needs for at least 20 years.

 “The wastewater treatment plant has to happen. Without it, Fairfield County will have very limited growth potential in the future; but when it’s built, the county will be in a great position to welcome new growth, and to more fully realize its potential,” Taylor said.

Robinson agreed.

“While people don’t necessarily love a wastewater treatment facility, and paying for it with a penny tax doesn’t give people a warm fuzzy feeling, they love what it brings – jobs, retail, industrial and residential growth, recreation, all of that and, quite frankly, lower property taxes in the end,” Robinson said.

The county has scheduled a virtual town hall meeting for 6 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 6 to explain the plan and answer any questions from the public. To register for the webinar meeting, go to: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_sbFWi2blQxSOIVks-WpNdw.