Second try to build homes on Northeast Richland golf course has neighbors up in arms

Homeowners in Northeast Richland County thought they defeated efforts to build hundreds of new homes on a defunct golf course behind their houses. Now, residents are back on the defensive after developers relaunched efforts to turn the green space into a new subdivision.

The owners of the former Golf Club of South Carolina, which is near Blythewood, are asking county planners for permission to put more than 200 homes up on the 183-acre golf course in the Crickentree community, angering would-be neighbors who bought what they thought were luxury golf course homes.

Residents of the Crickentree are organizing to flood a Monday hearing of the planning commission to stop the proposal from E-Capital of Texas from getting approval.

Some 150 residents turned up for a hearing in April, but a proposal from E-Capital for a higher density development was pulled prior to review by the county.

The firm is now applying for a low-density residential designation, said attorney Robert Fuller. County planners are recommending approval of the proposal because E-Capital’s plans match residential developments — like Crickentree — that have already sprung up in the area.

“But we had (planner) approval last time, and it didn’t go through,” Fuller said.

Neighbors of the golf course credit that defeat to their active opposition to the proposal. They say zoning rules are so loose that a change could allow their 200-home proposal to grow up to 600 homes once the change goes through.

“They’re taking money out of our pocket and putting it into theirs, because our property values are going to be affected,” said Crickentree resident Mishy Kelly.

Like many of the 140 residents in the area, Kelly bought her house because it backed up to open space, something that gave her peace of mind. The lower density development would replace that view with someone else’s backyard, she said.

They want to see the former golf course maintained as public recreation space, although County Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson, who represents the area, ruled out the possibility of Richland County creating a park ahead of the previous hearing.

Golf course neighbor Russ Ste.Marie said he knows of 15 people who are likely to oppose the new development plan at Monday’s hearing, and he hopes residents who live beside other courses will also speak out against the rezoning plan.

The former Golf Club is currently zoned for recreational and open space uses, meant to provide communities with outdoor activities and create buffer areas around residential properties. The same zoning classification also covers four other golf courses in Northeast Richland — The Members Club at Woodcreek & Wildewood, The Windemere Club, LongCreek Plantation and Spring Valley Country Club.

If any of those succumb to the financial pressures, neighbors should worry about their zoning protections being waved if E-Capital’s development plan is approved, Ste.Marie said.

But other residents in the Blythewood area are supportive of the development proposal, Fuller said, although “whether or not they will come up to speak in a public meeting, I don’t know.”

“There are always concerns” about new developments from neighbors, Fuller said. “But it’s not their decision. It’s the planning commission and the county council’s decision.”

But Crickentree residents said the zoning restrictions for golf courses were meant to protect their property values and quality of life.

“I’m from Germany, and nobody plays golf there,” said Iris Ste.Marie. “I asked, ‘What happens if the golf course goes away?’ and was told ‘It’s protected by (zoning).”

Russ Ste.Marie said he spoke to a local developer who agreed the nine fairways closest to Crickentree could be deeded to local property owners, and then the remaining 110 acres could be profitably developed. The residents and the developer had not heard back from E-Capital on the proposal, Ste.Marie said.

Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.