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Northeast residents up in arms over plan to build 100s of homes on former golf course

Residents of the upscale Crickentree community near Blythewood are fighting a rezoning request that would allow a developer to build hundreds of houses on the former Golf Club of South Carolina.

Some Crickentree residents say building houses on the golf course will lower the property values of their luxury homes, harm the environment and further clog roads in the sprawling northeast Richland suburbs.

The course is now covered by a special conservation zoning category that ensures it remains green space. That special zoning also covers four other course in northeast Richland — The Members Club at Woodcreek & Wildewood, The Windemere Club, LongCreek Plantation and Spring Valley Country Club.

The golf course owners, E-Capital of Texas, have asked the county to rezone the land to allow for medium-density single family homes.

Some residents say that changing the zoning for Crickentree would eventually affect those other communities. A public hearing on the zoning request is Tuesday before Richland County Council. The council meets at 7 p.m.

“It will set the precedent,” said Crickentree resident Russell Ste.Marie. “There are 3,000 or 4,000 people living in these communities, and you’re taking away all the value of those homes. They paid premium for those benefits and now those benefits would be gone.”

He noted the investment firm that bought the course paid a bargain $1 million for the course, which works out to about $5,000 an acre.

“And they can turn around and sell it to a developer for $20,000 an acre. That’s what they do,” Ste.Marie said.

Lack of parks

Crickentree closed in July when the national investment firm that holds its loan announced to neighbors in an email that the course had gone bankrupt and foreclosure proceedings had begun. In a public meeting with residents, an attorney for that firm — E-Capital — told neighbors the intent was to subdivide the golf course into small lots and build 450 homes.

The zoning change would allow up to 600, Ross said.

E-Capital officials could not be reached for comment last week.

Cricketree residents are backing a plan pitched by Blythewood Mayor Mike Ross that the county or private donors purchase the property and turn it into much-needed recreational space — hiking and biking trails, even equestrian trails in additional to playing fields.

He noted in fast-growing northeast Richland, recreational opportunities are at a premium, and getting kids to and from after-school activities in other areas is adding to the nightmarish rush hour traffic.

“We need lacrosse fields, football fields and soccer fields,” he said. “We’re talking 120-yard grass fields here, not stadiums.”

Political showdown

But the park issue has set up a showdown between Ross and Richland County Council member Joyce Dickerson, who represents that district.

Dickerson opposes the park plan, but told The State she has not made up her mind about the rezoning.

“I’m still in debate with myself,” she said. “But the county is not purchasing that property.”

Ross approached the Richland County Recreation Commission before the rezoning request was filed, and that caused some ill will, said Dickerson, a former county council chairwoman. The mayor skirting County Council and pitching a plan for land not in the Blythewood city limits was out of bounds, she said.

“If he wants a park, he can put it in there,” she said of the city of Blythewood.

Ross appealed to Dickerson “to take a popular stand for the people of her district.

‘Nobody wants to come’

Crickentree’s plight is not unique among the 18 courses in Richland and Lexington counties. One other Midlands area golf course recently closed, and others, such as Windemere and Wildewood, are in danger.

Recently, the former Coldstream golf course near Irmo closed. Owner Stewart Mungo, who purchased the course out of bankruptcy with his brother Steven, donated the 116-acre course to the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission.

Eventually, the commission plans to link the 4.5 miles of cart paths to the Three Rivers Greenway, a series of river walks in Columbia and Lexington County.

Crickentree’s situation is a national problem, according to a Forbes magazine story. The thought is that homeowners have a choice: either pay to buy the club or lose money in lost property values if the club goes under.

Crickentree residents have said they want to purchase the course from E-Capital, but the offer has fallen on deaf ears.

“They can get more with the zoning change,” Ste.Marie said.

For resident Deborah Rioux, the whole situation is unnerving.

“Houses are not selling here,” she said. “Nobody wants to come in this area until all this is settled.”

Jeff Wilkinson has worked for The State for both too long and not long enough. He’s covered politics, city government, history, business, the military, marijuana and the Iraq War. Jeff knows the weird, wonderful and untold secrets of South Carolina. Buy him a shot and he’ll tell you all about them.