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New Columbia housing development gets OK after developer addresses resident concerns

·3 min read
Columbia Planning Department

Plans for a new development on South Beltline Boulevard are moving forward after developers say they addressed residents’ concerns about traffic and the environment, the city’s planning commission voted Monday.

Pushback from residents and uncertainty around allowable lot sizes delayed the project’s approval, which developers Lafaye Custom Homes first presented in October.

After working with the city, as well as the South Kilbourne Neighborhood Association to come to a compromise, company vice president Wyman Bowers said he believes concerns have been addressed.

But Monday, several residents disagreed with that assessment, particularly regarding the number of houses that will be built.

The development is a 17-house subdivision in south Columbia near the Jim Hamilton-LB Owens Airport. It will be built on a 16.2-acre plot, but the houses will be built on a roughly 4-acre portion of the site. The remaining land — about 12 acres — includes a watershed and will remain undisturbed wetlands.

A letter of support from the Gills Creek Watershed Association was included in Bowers’ planning commission application.

“The plans shared with us show no appreciable development in the floodplain, no planned fill, and a careful design of stormwater detention ponds to control runoff into the adjacent wetlands,” reads the letter, signed by the association’s executive director Carmony Adler. “We are very pleased to see this attention to sensitive areas and applaud the developers for their approach.”

Worries about community character

Residents who spoke Monday raised the most concerns about the number of homes being proposed. Some worried the development would negatively affect community character. Mark Cox, a nearby resident, told the commissioners that the neighborhood association asked the developers to consider building 15 homes, a proposal the developers rejected.

Bowers said he is legally allowed to build 24 houses on the 4-acre building site, but proposed 19. In an interview with The State Monday, Bowers said he had agreed with the neighborhood association to build 17 homes, but during Monday’s meeting Bowers requested the planning commission approve the 19-home plan.

After several residents testified against the proposal, commissioner April James asked Bowers if he would revert to 17 structures, which he agreed to do.

Another resident said the more lots that are built, the worse traffic will be when each house is occupied.

Bowers said he believes traffic will not be an issue. The original proposal would have given residents of the new homes each individual access to Beltline Boulevard. Now, the developers are proposing adding a one-way cul-de-sac inside the subdivision so there would be just two points of access to the city road.

He said he contacted the South Carolina Department of Transportation for feedback on the traffic concerns. He said the agency was not concerned about the development, nor did it feel a traffic study was necessary.

“They’re the authority on traffic, so we felt that one was addressed,” Bowers said.

Residents opposed to the project have also worried about additional stress on aging water and sewer infrastructure. Bowers declined to comment on those concerns, saying the responsibility to maintain those services belonged to the city.

City staff, including department heads for utilities and traffic engineering, recommended the Planning Commission approve the proposal.

Bowers said it will be several months before they break ground on the project. Next, they must acquire the proper permits from the city. He anticipates the houses won’t start going up until spring.

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