Richland’s related land-use zoning puts pressure on Washington

Richland County has assembled a large industrial tract, setting the foundation for efforts to open land in Lower Richland to new development.

The county has a five-year option on two tracts off Pineview Road, costing a total of $5.55 million, that it already has begun showing to industrial recruits considering a move to the Columbia area, said Nelson Lindsay, Richland County economic development director.

Add the tracts to nearby land the county already owns and they create a 500-acre parcel – the largest publicly owned industrial site in Richland County, big enough to handle a major employer comparable to Lexington County’s Amazon or Lugoff’s Target distribution center, Lindsay said.

But there’s one possible hitch.

The East Richland Public Service District owns one of the tracts, about 84 acres, that the county is looking to acquire. East Richland has found another piece of land nearby, on Bluff Road, but wants Richland County Council to rezone it from rural to light-industrial use.

Council chairman Kelvin Washington, who represents the area, is opposed to the change. That’s significant, since the council’s protocol on land-use zoning is to follow the lead of the district representative.

Washington said there are no other similarly zoned industrial sites nearby and that accommodating East Richland would extend a pattern of guiding projects with “a negative impact” to Lower Richland.

East Richland does not serve area residents, Washington said, but pipes in the waste of some 18,000 customers to treat at its plant on White House Road, near Bluff Road. The agency could even choose to spread treated sludge on the land, he said.

.Scott Elliott, lawyer for the special purpose district, would not say whether the agency’s sale of land to the county for industrial recruitment is contingent on rezoning its second tract.

But Councilman Seth Rose, who sits on the county’s economic development committee, is concerned the issues are closely linked. “We’re in the hunt for a game-changing opportunity with a staggering amount of new jobs and investment in our county,” Rose said. “Without rezoning the property to match the zoning of the parcels around it, we could lose out.”

The 140 acres that East Richland has bought is near the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center. The agency has no plans for the property, Elliott said, but the designation it’s requesting for light industrial use would provide more flexibility.

Regardless, the district has no plans to apply sludge on the land, a practice it engaged in once in the 1980s but never since, Elliott said. “That’s really kind of ancient history.”

If the agency were to consider land application again, environmentalists would frown on it because of the potential for contaminating groundwater and the nearby Congaree River, said Bob Guild, an environmental lawyer and member of the Sierra Club. If done improperly, land application can create nuisance odors, too, he said.

“A lot of it depends on particulars, but we’d be concerned about land application in a floodplain,” Guild said.

Regardless, Elliott said it’s just not an issue.

“We have simply held that land so that we could have a piece of property if it were ever needed,” Elliott said, “but we’ve been growing hay on it.”

Meanwhile, Lindsay considers the super-industrial park as the county’s best opportunity to recruit because of its access to a railroad line and I-77, leading to both I-26 and I-20. County leaders have considered the lack of a large site, until now, as a major disadvantage in economic development efforts. Washington acknowledges the county has “missed out” on a couple of new industries because it didn’t have such a large site to offer.

If the county lands a project there, it could provide the momentum to push the Shop Road Extension to the top of the priority list for funding with the new penny sales-tax for transportation.

Business leaders, during their campaign to approve the $1.07 billion in sales-tax revenue, said the new road would open thousands of acres of land-locked property to industrial use over the next 22 years. It’s not designed yet, but generally the roadway would extend south from the end of Shop Road, then head east to connect with Garners Ferry Road.

“Acquiring property as it comes available is a very smart thing for the county to be doing,” Ike McLeese, president and CEO of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, said this week.

As for the backstory involving Washington and the East Richland Public Service District, it could be aired during a public hearing July 23.

But Washington said he’s not worried the agency would withdraw its offer to sell land to the county if the council declines to rezone its Bluff Road property. “Either they’re going to sell their land, or they’re not,” Washington said.