The fight over a plan for new sports facilities at Dreher High School is far from over.
A recent three-hour public hearing revealed the depth of what’s at stake in whether the school is allowed to rezone and potentially construct five new tennis courts and a multi-use athletic field with stadium-style lighting and bleacher seating on its campus abutting the Heathwood and Melrose Heights neighborhoods.
Columbia City Council has delayed a rezoning vote that could open the door to a special exception allowing the athletic facilities to be built. It’s not yet clear when council will reconsider the matter.
The city Planning Commision twice has denied the district’s request.
The issues go beyond the desire to give Dreher students equitable sporting facilities on campus – most sports are currently played off campus – as school supporters have pleaded. The issues also go beyond the fight against possible light, traffic and sound pollution, as waged by neighbors.
Among the less-publicized issues and arguments wrapped up in the Dreher debate:
If the school district can renege on an earlier deal with the neighborhoods, it might do so again in the future, some neighbors worry.
Neighbors frequently have pointed to the agreement the school district and Dreher’s neighbors made in 2003, when the school was allowed to rebuild on its current campus. The school district bought and destroyed a handful of nearby homes but promised to preserve the green space near the homes that remained.
Still, the school’s needs have changed in the past 17 years, some argue.
“Being better necessitates change,” city resident Vance Stricklin said at the May 16 hearing.
Other neighborhoods are watching.
Before the rise of the Vista and the redevelopment of Main Street, neighborhoods got the bulk of politicians’ attention. Some neighborhood leaders in recent years have wondered aloud whether council members are no longer as interested in neighborhood safety, streetlights and property.
That puts a lot of pressure of this decision.
Dreher no longer is a “neighborhood school”
The neighborhood Dreher sits in is not where its students hail from.
Dreher’s attendance zone stretches from the nearby (but not adjacent) Shandon neighborhood to well down Shop and Bluff roads. And the neighborhoods directly adjacent to Dreher actually are zoned for A.C. Flora High School.
No other Richland 1 school sits outside its attendance zone.
What it means is that most of the families who live closest to Dreher don’t have children who go there and potentially could benefit from on-campus sports facilities.
And families of most Dreher students, in turn, do not experience the environmental impacts of the school on their homes.
What could happen to property values?
Both sides of the debate argue that sports facilities at Dreher would have opposite effects on property values and desirability for nearby homes.
Some neighbors who recently bought homes in Heathwood have said they never would have purchased them if they had known about Dreher’s sports plans. Others have said they fear they won’t be able to sell a home so close to a sports field.
Dreher supporters have argued that investing in the school’s campus would improve neighborhood property values.
Sports fields at Dreher likely wouldn’t affect actual property values so much as desirability for some, said local realtor Jeff Riley, who has had experience selling homes near other schools with sports fields.
“There’s some pluses and minuses” to buying and selling a home near a school with sports fields, Riley said. “I really don’t think it has a negative impact as much as homeowners might think.”
Better Dreher, better Columbia?
Some have argued that improving Dreher’s campus is necessary to make the Columbia city limits more desirable for prospective residents, including employees being recruited by businesses and the University of South Carolina.
“I worry if we don’t make changes like this, then we’re going to lose productive members of society that would be good neighbors, provide good students and also be good taxpayers,” said Jennifer Hucks, speaking at the May 16 public hearing.
But Dreher already is a standout school, the other side has argued.
“Dreher is and always has been one of the state’s flagship high schools,” said Hamilton Osborne, a 1961 Dreher graduate who has lived in Heathwood for more than three decades, also speaking at the public hearing. “Dreher produced a Nobel Prize winner, a chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court and a mayor of the city of Columbia. ... These significant achievements were accomplished without athletic facilities the school district now wants to build and claims are so essential.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.