Sumter County Council Tuesday evening during its first regular meeting of the year voted to defer a rezoning request for property on Loring Mill Road after a lengthy discussion about land use matters.
After members of Council voted unanimously to elect Chairman James T. McCain Jr. and Vice-Chairman James R. “Jimmy” Byrd Jr. to continue serving for another two-year leadership term, City-County Planning Director George McGregor spoke to members of council.
Randolph Black owns a 1.48 acre parcel and a .74 acre parcel at 2110 Loring Mill Road and wants to rezone the property from Agricultural Conservation (AC) to Light Industrial-Warehouse (LI-W) for the purpose of having a tiny home manufacturing and sales site.
McGregor said it would be similar to a mobile home manufacturer and that the Planning Commission recommended approval. Chairman McCain noted that prior to second reading of the request, a public hearing would be held.
Black spoke first, and told the standing-room only audience that he’s thinking of the well-being of the community and has put a lot of thought into the project. He wondered if it’s possible to “put a caveat” in the rezoning request which would stipulate the property would revert to AC zoning if the property were to change hands. That way, folks wouldn’t have to wonder what LI-W use might follow his project, he said.
Patty Wilson spoke on behalf of Black, noting that small businesses should be encouraged. Black, she said, has the fortitude to try and develop something on the property and he should be given the opportunity to do so.
Louis Watkins also spoke in favor and said he owns property in close proximity to the proposed project. At first he was opposed but changed his mind after speaking with Black and considering the neighborhood and area. Black’s venture could spur other development, Watkins said.
Mill Pond subdivision resident Mack Kolb spoke against the project, and explained he developed Mill Pond for the Lee family.
“We’ve done everything we can to keep the area nice,” he said, “and make large investments ourselves.”
He also developed Lee’s Preserve, he said, which is adjacent to the proposed tiny home manufacturing site and encompasses 430 acres. Black’s property and Lee’s Preserve are situated in the Military Protection District, he said, and noted that 180 acres of Lee’s Preserve have been placed into a Conservation Easement, which means that land will never be developed. Tracts in the preserve are five acres or larger, he said, so as to not encroach on Shaw Air Force Base.
“We just think that having a spot zoning of Light Industrial (Warehouse) on Loring Mill Road is out of character for the area and we can’t support it,” he said. “This just isn’t the place for it.”
Kolb also said there was “quite an audience of people out here that have invested large sums of money,” that are concerned about the request.
Tripp Waynick spoke on behalf of the Lee’s Preserve Home Owners Association, which consists of 35 property owners. The preserve’s HOA owns the conservation easement, he said, and they have nothing against Mr. Black, but want to protect their investment. Loring Mill Road traffic gets busier and busier, he said. There are other properties available in the county zoned Light Industrial already, he said. The subdivision represents in excess of a $21 million property tax base, he said, which is a conservative estimate, and they’re “adamantly opposed” to the rezoning request.
Loring Mill Road resident Margaret Held said she and her husband live on Loring Mil Road and she bemoaned the speed of McGregor’s presentation and wanted to know if background information of the request is available. McCain said it is. (Here: http://cms7.revize.com/revize/sumtersc/our_council/council_documents/agenda_s_minutes.php)
She doesn’t know Mr. Black, she said, and considers herself “somewhat liberal” and wants people to do with their property what they’d like but that ultimately the project would have an adverse effect on traffic. The area is entirely residential, she said, and she objects to the request.
James Goodson owns property “a pitching wedge” away from the proposed project, he said, and his concern is the noise that would likely result.
“And so I’m very opposed to this,” he said, also noting the residential character of the area.
Councilman Charles Edens made a motion for denial of the request, which was seconded by Artie Baker. Those two men and Councilman Chris Sumpter voted for denial. McCain asked if there was another motion.
Byrd asked McGregor if LI-W was the only zoning possible for the use requested. McGregor said it was possible to add the use being proposed to another zoning district. Light manufacturing and sales would only fit in Light Industrial or Heavy Industrial, he said. Other options are possible, but Light Industrial “is where it fits,” he said. Baker said it’s “almost spot zoning.”
Baten asked about a commercial use nearby and how close it was to the preserve. McGregor showed on a map how far away General Commercial is on Broad Street and guessed it was 620 feet from the GC site to the property in question. Byrd asked what the nearest GC business is and McGregor said it’s a mobile home sales lot. Council member Vivian Fleming-McGhaney asked if the tiny homes would be built on site and then moved and McGregor said the homes would be constructed on site and sold on the same location. McGhaney asked about a possible buffer and McGregor said he doesn’t have site plan details yet. The zoning ordinance encourages and in some respect requires landscape buffers but those details come after a rezoning, he said.
McCain asked if the first step was rezoning, and then Black would bring site plan details, and McGregor agreed. McGhaney asked about the caveat of the property reverting to original zoning and County Attorney Johnathan Bryan said that zoning is legislation.
“And only you can engage in legislation,” he said, referring to all of County Council.
If the business were to cease, restricted covenants might be a possible avenue, Bryan said. McGhaney said she wanted to find common ground to appease the residents and also find a way for Black to use his property, with buffering and restrictions on future uses and landowners. Baker asked if covenants were between the owner and the neighborhood, and so he wondered who would have the relationship and attendant authority to enforce the possible covenants. Edens said he’s spoken with many folks in the area who are opposed to the rezoning and the use. Truck traffic would drastically increase, he said.
Black asked if the manufacturing component was removed, it would no longer be Light Industrial and the site would become a sales lot.
“Would that not solve the problem?,” he asked.
McGregor said he would need to review the options and Baker asked if Black was asking to amend the request. Baten asked about Planning Department approval and McGregor said the Planning Commission approved the request and Planning Department staff sees the intersection of Broad Street and Loring Mill as potentially a destination commercial node of some sort, depending on the land available. How far commercial “seeps down” Loring Mill becomes a question for Council, he said. There’s a substation next to it, he noted, and proximity to Broad Street. Baten asked about the impact of the request on the preserve. Any use at the intersection is going to increase traffic and he said redevelopment of the intersection is likely, McGregor said.
Baten asked about opposition to the request when it went before the Planning Commission and McGregor said the county zoning ordinance holds its public hearing before County Council and does not call for a public hearing or notice to property owners when the issue is before the Planning Commission. McGhaney asked if it was possible for the parties involved to find common ground; second reading could be approved or tabled, she said.
“This is a difficult decision,” she said. “I feel like there’s additional conversations that can be held to try to maybe find some common ground if there’s a possibility of that happening.”
Byrd said since Black has presented another option, he would only vote to deny or defer. Bryan said it wouldn’t be appropriate to amend the request in the middle of the process. McGregor said he reviewed the zoning ordinance and mobile home dealers are not permitted in AC, but only in GC or LI.
Councilman Chris Sumpter said there was plenty of dialogue about the issue. People have lived there for decades, he said, and invested in a homestead. In the best interests of the folks of the community as a whole, he made a motion to defer the issue, which was seconded by Baker and Baten agreed. Edens said Black could withdraw his request for LI and amend possible uses for AC. Second reading was deferred after a vote that was unanimous.
OTHER REZONING REQUESTS
McGregor then spoke to council about a request to rezone a 46.99 acre parcel at 2320 Beckwood Road from Agricultural Conservation (AC) to Residential-15 (R-15). Planning Commission recommended approval for the undeveloped piece of property, he said. First reading passed.
The next request McGregor spoke to was a request on behalf of Sumter County to rezone a 15 acre parcel and a 1.39 acre parcel at 160 Jefferson Road from General Residential (GR) to Heavy Industrial (HI). The request would allow Becton Dickinson to expand, he said. First reading passed.
Sumter County Administrator Gary Mixon reported to Council that the yearly external audit from Webster Rogers would be presented at the next regular meeting on Jan. 22. Activity for County Government will ramp up in January, he said, as the opening bid for the new Sumter Veterans Park has started. The renovation to the County Administration building is set to begin, he said, and High Street will soon be resurfaced. The Dillon Park Penny for Progress project is about 95 percent complete, he said, and work on the Lafayette Diamond will ramp up again as well. Edens asked for an update on the Second Mill Dam project and Mixon said there’s a new FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) representative over the project, which has caused a slight delay.
New Jersey transplant Hope Watson spoke about illegal dumping on Cannery Road and said the road needs to be paved as well. Leroy Jones said the road is a mess and needs maintenance. Keith Schultz expressed disdain for the Auditor’s office and Louis Watkins once again voiced his complaint that there is no formal complaint process. Isetta Davis, Mark Austin and Rosie Chapman also expressed the desire for more maintenance and eventual paving of Cannery Road. Jackie Hughes offered hand delivered invitations to Council members for an American Legion Post 15 dinner on Feb. 4 to honor first responders and noted McCain was present last year.
Sumpter said he wants the roads to improve in Sumter County as well and recognizes the need to do so. He said he will work hard to get that done and thanked them for sharing their experience. Baten agreed and said there are some terrible roads in the county.
Council went into executive session at 7:25 p.m. and when members returned, Baker made a motion to get out of executive session, which was seconded and approved. Byrd made a motion to approve a request from the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office for an additional major position. Baten voted against it, and the other Council members voted for it.
The meeting, which began shortly after 6 p.m., adjourned at 7:42 p.m.
The next meeting of Sumter County Council will be held at 6 p.m. on Jan. 22 on the third floor of the Administration building at 13 East Canal Street.