Red Gate TC rezoning approved on 1st reading

BLYTHEWOOD – Following a contentious discussion, the Blythewood Town Council voted 3-2 Monday night to approve on first reading a rezoning of the former Red Gate property, a roughly 140-acre parcel across I-77 from town and bounded by Blythewood, Syrup Mill, and Muller roads.

Now, the only step that remains for the proposed zoning change to occur is approval of a second reading at a future meeting.

The proposed zoning change would designate the road frontage areas of the property as commercial in the Town Center District, which is Blythewood’s most restrictive zoning designation, extending the official downtown to the other side of Interstate 77. The remainder of the property would be zoned rural.

The parcel is currently zoned for planned development, based on a plan from years ago to build several hundred homes on the site – a project that was never built.

The Blythewood Planning Commission first proposed rezoning the land last year, based on a provision in the town’s zoning ordinance that requires rezoning of any planned development site where development does not begin within two years.

The issue was complicated by the fact that the property changed hands early in the process; the Dinkins family bought it shortly before the rezoning process began. While zoning signs were posted on the property, the Dinkins say they were unaware that it was taking place.

The planning commission’s initial rezoning proposal would have given the parcel a designation of Development (D-1), considered a holding pattern for future growth. But the owner objected, wishing to be able to develop the property commercially.

The planning commission voted 5-0 in early March to recommend the proposed zoning change, and on Monday three members of the town council voted in favor of approval: Mayor Bryan Franklin, Mayor Pro-Tem Eddie Baughman, and Councilman Larry Griffin.

Councilmen Sloan Griffin and Donald Brock voted against the proposal.

Sloan Griffin’s objection was that the town center zoning, though restrictive, would allow residential development on the site, which Blythewood leaders say they have been trying to avoid in light of the current boom in new home building that’s impacting the town.

“There’s still some form of residential that can come along with the town center,” Sloan Griffin said, noting that many residents have expressed a desire for the town to steer clear of additional residential development. “I’m not comfortable with this.”

Brock said he wanted to know specifically what would be developed on the land before approving a zoning change.

Even if the current owners, as they’ve stated, have no intention of engaging in residential development, Brock said if they were to sell it, a future owner could develop anything the property’s zoning designation allows.

“I highly encourage the people who live there who will be impacted by this to read the zoning regulations to see what can pop up in your back yard. Some of it may not make you happy,” Brock said. “Is this the direction the town wants to go? Do we want to create a separate town on the other side of the Interstate?”

 Baughman expressed support for this expansion of town center zoning, saying, “I think it’s stringent enough.”

Larry Griffin based his support on the proposal’s alignment with town planning documents: “If it is within our comprehensive plan, I have no objections to it,” he said.

Franklin was bullish in calling out councilmen who had questions about the rezoning, accusing them of having an alarmist attitude.

“So, based on your logic, we should no longer have a town center district out of fear of houses being put up?” he said to Brock, kicking off a heated exchange.

Rich McKenrick, chairman of the planning commission, answered questions from the council, saying that it was the planning commission – not the property owner – that had initiated the rezoning, in an effort to replace the planned development designation with something more in line with expected use.

“It’s a golden opportunity to get rid of [the planned] 232 single-family homes and 300 multi-family apartments,” McKenrick said, asking that if the council does not like the current proposed zoning that they provide a hint as to what they want instead, particularly because of the staff time that is required to put together each new proposal.

“The one thing the planning commission was left with in our discussion is doing nothing which speaks very loudly because there is already a planned development laying on this property that has been there way too long,” McKenrick said.

“It’s certainly a key piece of property to Blythewood’s future, and… it does comply with the current comprehensive and master plan.”

In answer to another question, McKenrick said the revisions currently taking place to the town’s comprehensive plan will only strengthen the idea that town center property will exist on both sides of the Interstate.

Also at the meeting – and passing with a unanimous 5-0 vote – the town council amended the zoning ordinance to add a Traditional Recreation Open Space (TROS) zoning designation, which can ensure that areas created for recreation with a subdivision remain as such.

This zoning designation would, for example, prevent a golf course from being developed into a subdivision in the future.

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