Richland County rejects Rimer Pond Rd. rezoning request

COLUMBIA – In a unanimous vote Tuesday evening, the Richland County Council rejected the zoning requested for a planned 55-home subdivision on Rimer Pond Road.

The vote came after numerous citizens expressed their frustration with the traffic and pace of development along Rimer Pond, which connects Wilson Boulevard in Blythewood to Hardscrabble Road and is adjacent to several large residential projects, including the 600-home Blythewood Farms subdivision and two approved projects totaling 900 homes down the road near Crickentree.

“I think that the concerns of the constituents on Rimer Pond Road and the surrounding areas are extremely valid,” said Council Member Gretchen Barron, whose district includes some of the area around Rimer Pond Road.

“We’ve had many conversations, whether formally or offline, about the importance of smart growth in Richland County, and I think this is a prime example of where we need to dial back just a little bit and look at some different ways and some alternatives.”

Barron was the only council member to comment in the public hearing before the council voted down the rezoning request, which would have changed the property’s zoning from rural to low-density residential.

Council Member Derrek Pugh, the other council member whose district includes areas around Rimer Pond Road, made the motion to deny the rezoning request, and his motion was seconded by Council Member Allison Terracio.

The site is adjacent to a 41-home subdivision (part of the Blythewood Farms project) that’s already approved, and the plan for this one is to share its road entrance and build turning lanes to reduce its traffic impact, according to the comments of developer Kevin Steelman, which were read aloud during the meeting as the lone voice in support of the project.

The project, Steelman’s letter to the council pointed out, would be in line with the county’s comprehensive plan and fit in with the surrounding residential land use.

Map showing Cooper’s Pond, Great Southern Homes and Steelman’s proposed neighborhood on Rimer Pond Road.

“We’ll probably circle back with the council and apply for another rezoning,” Steelman told the Voice after the meeting in which the request was voted down.

“I think that the complaints in general come from people who bought homes that were recently constructed, and it’s a typical response – people not wanting development in their backyard,” he said. “It’s disappointing that the council would be influenced by that.”

The vote marks somewhat of a shift for the council, to which several new members – among them Pugh and Barron – were recently elected.

“It’s important as leaders…that you listen to the constituents,” Pugh said after the meeting. “I took into consideration what our community had to say, and I wanted to make sure that I delivered on promises that I made when I was campaigning, and I campaigned on smart growth, and we’re going to make sure that we get smart growth.”

What does smart growth look like in the area near Rimer Pond Road? For right now, Pugh said, it means taking a step back to study the traffic patterns on overloaded two-lane roads and see what might be possible to improve the infrastructure before more development takes place.

“We really don’t know what traffic looks like because kids aren’t fully back in school [and] a lot of the workforce is still working from home,” Pugh said. “I really feel until we get the proper infrastructure, we need to dial it back a bit on new development in that specific area.”

During the meeting, five of the 21 comments from residents opposing the rezoning were read aloud. They referenced school traffic issues, loss of natural spaces, and “deplorable congestion” caused by residential growth that has overwhelmed existing infrastructure.

“I oppose any development on this road because there is already too much traffic on this road,” one resident’s comment read. “There are times during the day when I cannot even get out of my driveway onto Rimer Pond Road without someone letting me out.”

Another resident complained of taking 25 minutes to travel roughly 3.5 miles from Round Top Elementary School to Blythewood High School due to rush-hour traffic on Rimer Pond, noting an expectation that already-approved subdivision projects would likely make the traffic worse.

Another said the area’s urban sprawl is “out of control” and said it would be “irresponsible” for the council to allow it to continue.

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