A zoning issue on Clemson Road has become a lightning rod for some people concerned about over-development in Northeast Richland.
Residents are expected to turn out for a public hearing Tuesday, upset about a proposed grocery store on 15.4 acres adjoining a subdivision — when there are two empty grocery stores at the intersection of Clemson and Hard Scrabble roads already, and large tracts of vacant land cleared years ago and still awaiting development.
Richland County planning staff recommended against the requested change from rural to general commercial use, just east of the high-traffic intersection, saying it contradicts the county’s long-range growth plan. That plan calls for development that would create a transition between homes and businesses, according to material distributed ahead of the hearing.
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Earlier this month, the Richland County Planning Commission voted for the change, 6-2, with some on the board saying it is inevitable that Clemson Road will become a commercial corridor. County Council will have the final say on the zoning.
While there are other subdivisions near the proposed development, it’s the 89-home Brookfield neighborhood that stands to be most affected by the 41,000-square foot grocery store, 24-hour pharmacy and six-pump gas station. Brookfield is just behind the proposed commercial site, a triangle-shaped wooded tract.
The Brookfield Homeowners Association, which initially opposed the rezoning, opted to negotiate with developers Cypress Equities of Dallas after hearing the planning commission debate Nov. 5, president Lorelei Puthuff said.
The homeowners would have preferred that the property be zoned for office and institutional use, she said — or, better yet, stay wooded. A member of the board went to the planning commission meeting to say just that.
But in view of the commission’s lopsided support for the proposal, the homeowners now have a lawyer working with the developers to craft deed restrictions addressing issues such as fences, lighting and hours of operation, Puthuff said.
“Everyone’s looking at it as, ‘There’s plenty of places for you to develop; go develop there,’” she said. “But the buyer feels this is the place to put a grocery store.”
Efforts to reach Cypress Equities’ Thomas Crowther to discuss the project were unsuccessful Monday.
County planning commissioner Patrick Palmer is among those who expect commercial uses “in some form or fashion” to line Clemson Road. Not all of it will be heavy commercial, he said; there are less intense commercial uses, like offices or apartments, that will work in some places.
But this property is close enough to the intersection of Clemson and Hard Scrabble roads that a general commercial designation makes sense, he said. The county tries to guide heavy commercial uses to intersections.
Plus, “there’s a need for grocers out in that area,” said Palmer, a local developer.
While there are two vacant grocery stores at Clemson and Hard Scrabble, the shopping centers there may have competitive reasons for not allowing another supermarket or drugstore into their empty storefronts.
Planning commissioner Heather Cairns said she opposed the change because there are too many vacant buildings in the area.
“I’m just a strong advocate for re-use,” she said. “There are challenges with re-use, but I want us to address those challenges instead of just say, ‘Well, that’s the way it is.’”
Cairns disagrees with what she said is the prevailing view on the county planning commission that a five-lane road must be flanked by commercial uses. Trenholm Road, in Forest Acres, proves people are willing to live on large lots along a major corridor as long as their homes are back off the street, she said.
Richland County Councilman Jim Manning said he’s hearing from people on both sides of the issue. But what’s unusual is that people who live closest to the proposed development are supporting the plan while those farther away are opposed to it, he said.
Puthuff said many of her neighbors in Brookfield do not support the development.
Neither does Tracy Barnes, who lives in the nearby Rose Creek subdivision. Barnes said she could support a “less invasive, less in-your-face kind of commercial use” on the site.
Planning commission member Beverly Frierson, who joined Cairns in a “no” vote, said the county shouldn’t direct commercial growth into the back yards of people who invested in homes along Clemson Road.
“We all know that nothing stays the same. However, there are other areas of Clemson that are more commercial. Why not put it there?”