Dozens of Richland County residents spoke out Tuesday against potential developments in Blythewood, citing the potential for increased traffic and a threat to the area’s rural character.
County Council gave initial approval for a developer to move forward with hundreds of homes off Heins Road. But it denied a hotly disputed commercial zoning request at the corner of Longtown and Rimer Pond Roads near Blythewood Middle and Round Top Elementary schools.
“We moved out there for a reason,” said Anne Burley, who spoke against the request that would have allowed commercial development on a little more than 5 acres at Longtown and Rimer Pond. “We moved out there because we wanted to get away from the hubbub. ... We moved out there to embrace the rural lifestyle. We would like to keep it.”
An adjacent property is to be developed with nearly 100 homes, which will bring more traffic to the area as it is, residents said.
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Besides traffic concerns, particularly given the site’s proximity to two schools and the already time-consuming morning commute for students at Blythewood High School, residents also complained they do not want or need commercial development in that area.
“We have a case here where a property owner is trying to force-fit a business where a demand does not exist,” nearby resident Jerry Rega said. “We have no idea what it might be. We’ve got an open-ended situation here. … We need to stop this ridiculous development.”
Homeowners near the proposed Heins Road residential development, meanwhile, voiced their own concerns about added traffic through Blythewood, as well as worries about light and noise pollution and a character mismatch of the development in a rural area.
“Myself and my neighbors have been called selfish and provincial because we oppose the development,” said Carol Ward. “We’ve been called anti-development, and we’ve been told by the developer and our county councilwoman that others should have the same opportunity we have for a home in the area. That’s a false premise.
“They’re not offering the people who would be buying these homes the same opportunity that we have to live in the area,” she said, referring to the difference between current homeowners’ 1- and multi-acre lots and the developer’s plan to build homes closer together, on lots of less than an acre.
The developer, Drapac Group, received unanimous initial approval from council for a zoning change that, by the book, would allow more than 500 homes to be built on about 203 acres.
Representatives of Drapac Group, though, promised to build no more than 375 houses on the Heins Road site. It never has been the developer’s intention to build 500 or more houses, said Robert Fuller, a Columbia attorney representing Drapac.
Even without the zoning change, the developer could build about 334 houses on the property under the existing rural zoning.
Development is inevitable, with or without council’s rezoning approval, Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson said. Allowing the zoning change will allow her some supervision over how the property is developed, she said.
Her rationale, though, didn’t sit well with some residents in attendance.
“The existing zoning was our protection, and she voted to give it away,” nearby homeowner Jay Keefer said.
Council will take two more votes on the Heins Road zoning. Three votes are needed for approval.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.