As Richland County moves forward to pave dirt roads, property owners object

Will Douglass Rd. property owner Betty Hite Shealy opposes the paving of the dirt road she lives on. | Barbara Ball

COLUMBIA – It was a little after 7 a.m. when 67-year-old Betty Shealy telephoned the home of The Voice’s publisher.

“Nobody’s gonna pave my damn road,” she blurted out, not in the tone of a greeting.

She had just finished reading a front page story in The Voice about Richland County’s proposal to pave all dirt roads in the county.  She was incensed.

She said she lives on a dirt road that runs through property that has been in her family for 400 years.

“It was named after my grandfather, Will Douglass,” she said. “Will Douglass Road.”

Her property, her cousin Will Douglass’s property, and a third piece of property, that are accessed off of Highway 321, total about 60+ acres that line both sides of the winding dirt road.

The road is maintained by the county.

Shealy said she loves living on that dirt road.

“Because it’s a dirt road, people drive slowly, respectfully. It’s quiet and peaceful out here, no speeding or noise from fast traffic. I never see anyone driving over 25 miles an hour. You can’t do that on a dirt road. If it gets paved we’ll have all kinds of traffic and noise out here. It needs to stay like it is,” she said.

“This is God’s country,” Shealy said. “We don’t want people driving like hell out here.”

Last month, however, the county’s interim transportation director, Michael Maloney, asked the County’s Transportation Ad Hoc committee to recommend that County Council amend the Dirt Road Paving ordinance by removing the section in Chapter 21 that, for years, allowed 25 percent of property owners on a dirt road to decline a road paving project.

The amendment, Maloney said, would allow the County to proactively pursue and complete the paving of Richland County dirt roads. The amendment could affect more than a hundred dirt roads in Blythewood 29016.

The requested amendment to the ordinance will shift the priority to the larger number of residents who might want their road to be paved rather than to the lower number of residents who might resist the paving work, according to county officials.

It appears that the county staff’s intent, is to notify property owners that the dirt road they live on is going to be paved. It seems the county might not take into consideration as to whether or not property owners do or don’t want their roads paved.

“I can’t believe our council representatives don’t realize how valuable dirt roads are to the majority of residents living on them,” said Kim Murphy who lives on a dirt road and frequently advocates at Richland County Council meetings. “Though I think the current 25 percent clause is best, if they really think the majority want it paved, then increase the threshold to 51%, but don’t do away with the choice completely.  Otherwise, it feels like the county wants unfettered access — for whatever reason — to pave dirt roads and take our land for 50 feet of right-of-way,” she said.

“Why would they think residents would want to trade a slow-speed country dirt road for a high-speed paved road with traffic and potholes that would facilitate the construction of dense housing subdivisions or multi-family developments?” Murphy said.

Maloney also explained that the ordinance provides for takings of right of way by the county. He said the county would be able to take additional property along a dirt road so that it meets the required 50-foot width for a paved road, and “may pay the property owner for the right of way needed,” depending on whether the county determines that the property owner benefits from the paving.

The committee unanimously supported Maloney’s proposed amendment, and sent it to council with a recommendation for approval.

When first reading for Maloney’s proposed amendment to delete the 25% denial specification came up in county council, Councilman Jason Branham tried to intervene prior to the vote.

“I wondered if 50% would help us get more into that principle or that realm of majority rule where, unless more than 50 percent of the homeowners object to it, then the paving should be able to proceed,” Branham suggested.

Branham voted against Maloney’s proposal, but the other council members voted for it.

Branham later asked Maloney if going from 25% to 51% would facilitate more of the projects that are on hold and Maloney said it would add some, but he did not have a number.

“Once we get past first reading, we can talk about 51%, 75%, 80%…,” Council Chair Overture Walker said.

Not only did Walker not bring it up at second reading, but second reading for the proposal to delete the 25% clause was passed unanimously with almost no discussion – Branham was not present.

Third and final reading on the proposed amendment is expected to be held July 18 in county council chambers, located in the county building at 2020 Hampton Street in Columbia. Interested persons are invited to attend. The time of the meeting will be posted when it is available.

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