Richland planning commission OKs bars, churches as neighbors in strip malls February 3, 2014 

Bars would be allowed to open next door to churches in shopping centers under a proposal recommended by Richland County planners.

Now, a 600-foot buffer is required between bars and churches – a separation that would remain in place for traditional, standalone churches.

But bars could move into strip malls, shopping centers or industrial parks where congregations worship under a measure going before County Council later this month. The council holds its monthly public hearing Feb. 25.

Councilman Norman Jackson, who sponsored the measure, said strip malls weren’t envisioned as places where churches would locate. And while they’re welcome, he said, it’s not fair to restrict other businesses that typically would be found there.

Monday, the Richland County Planning Commission signed off on the change without debate.

But the Rev. John Culp, with Virginia Wingard United Methodist Church, said later he was upset that a group of St. Andrews neighborhood groups and churches weren’t brought into the discussion.

A group of between 50 and 100 people attended a November council meeting to protest a similar measure but were not allowed to speak, Culp said. He was unaware of Monday’s meeting.

Revisions were portrayed as a clarification of the original proposal, which would have eliminiated the distance requirement altogether.

Six hundred feet is a little over one-tenth of a mile, or about the length of two football fields.

Though the change would not affect Culp’s church, he said he’s a supporter of churches in strip malls, which often are just getting started.

“It sounds to me like they’re representing the bars, and not the neighborhoods,” he said. “We have not even been asked for input, and I think that’s sad.”

On another matter, the planning commission endorsed master plans for Lower Richland and Spring Hill that have been two years in the making.

Kate Pearce, with the Charlotte planning firm LandDesign, said residents of both communities, on opposite ends of the county, want to stay rural and that people are worried about uncontrolled development.

Planning commission chairman Pat Palmer objected to including changes in land-use zoning as one of the strategies for putting the community plans into place. Palmer, a developer, said he was concerned the county would rezone property without the permission of landowners.

With his vote in favor required to move the plans along, planning commissioners deleted references to changes in the land-use zoning.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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