PC recommends 4-2 industrial rezoning

BLYTHEWOOD – A plan to open previously restricted land to potential industrial development received a favorable vote from Blythewood planning commissioners Tuesday night.

Commissioners voted 4-2 to recommend rezoning about 125 acres along Community and Blythewood roads from Town Center District (TC), which only allows certain uses, to Light Industrial Two District (LI-2).

Blythewood Town Council will have the final say on the rezoning.

The LI-2 properties in the industrial park are all vacant. With the amendment, the current LI-2 land in the industrial park will extend further north towards Blythewood Road while keeping 350 feet of road frontage as Town Center zoning.

The 2020-2030 Comprehensive Plan classifies the properties proposed for rezoning as Town Center. However, Town Administrator Carroll Williamson said staff recommended approval since he said the rezoning aligns with Goal #2 of the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

“That goal in the comprehensive plan is to work with Richland County to develop the industrial park,” Williamson said. “Based on the overall big picture for the town, that’s what I based the recommendation on.”

The properties in question border the Blythewood Industrial Park, which is already zoned LI-2 and covers about 1,350 acres, according to zoning maps and planning officials.

Initially, the plan was to encourage development of several buildings on the industrial property, said Jeff Ruble, director of Richland County Economic Development (RCED).

With that in mind, Ruble said the land was purchased in November 2019 to prevent residential or commercial development in favor of industrial growth.

“We don’t do retail. We don’t do commercial. We’re recruiting industrial,” he said.

Changing economic patterns and the pandemic prompted RCED to shift its focus toward landing one large company.

Ruble said no specific companies have been identified, though he said the technology-based companies Richland County is seeking brings the highest paying jobs, which translates into lower taxes and a more diverse economic base.

Residential and commercial growth does grow the tax base, but not as comprehensively as industrial growth, and rezoning the property aligns with that vision, he said.

“There’s been a drastic change to our economy. In the past, when a $100 million project came off the fax machine, we came running down the hall. Now there are billion dollar projects,” Ruble said. “This is one of the few sites that can accommodate that.”

The rezoning, however, drew pushback from some commissioners and a private citizen.

Cobblestone resident James Zedosky asked commissioners to reject the rezoning. He thought it was a mistake to rezone the property without a plan.

“What we’re doing now is basically taking your word for it,” Zedosky said. “We need to have a plan to go forward. I am not opposed to progress. I am opposed to just hodgepodge developing.”

Commissioner Erica Page asked about occupancy rates at other nearby industrial parks. Page also pressed Ruble about green space, something she thought shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Green space is a huge problem to us and our citizens,” she said.

Ruble said industrial development is being targeted for the northeast corner of the industrial park, noting that would impact the least amount of wetlands.

“There are hardwoods that we’ll probably never touch. That lends itself to green space,” Ruble said. “When you drive out of Cobblestone Park, you won’t see any industry. You’d probably be looking at the same scenery that you see now.”

Commission Chair Malcolm Gordge wanted to know what types of industries Richland County was targeting.

“LI-2 has a wide ranging potential of industries. Can you give us an idea of what you’re going for, the ideal plan that would suit your expectations?” Gordge asked.

Ruble said the county is focused primarily on technology-based companies.

“We’re primarily interested in knowledge economy jobs,” he said. “What we don’t want are big smokestacks. We don’t want companies that make a lot of noise. We’re not going to put in aluminum smelter or heavy industry like that.”

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