082417 Planning: Commission rejects county request for industrial site
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Eileen Johnson argues against the industrial zoning proposal.

Planning: Commission rejects county request for industrial site

By Charles Swenson

Seven hands went up and scores of others came together in applause as the Georgetown County Planning Commission last week rebuffed a request from county officials to zone land along the Sampit River for industrial development. The commission members raised the same concerns as residents along the river south of Georgetown about changing the zoning without knowing what industry may follow.

The county has an option to purchase 948 acres on the river across from Santee Cooper’s Winyah Generating Station. County Council this year approved $3.5 million for the project as part of the final phase of a capital improvement plan that began in 2008. The site is owned by Red Mountain Timber and zoned for forest and agricultural use. But it is adjacent to 3V Chemical and near the American Gypsum plant at the power station. The goal is to create jobs in a county where unemployment outside the Waccamaw Neck is 13.7 percent, said Brian Tucker, the county’s economic development director. Of those who do have full time jobs in the county, over 28 percent still live below the federal poverty line, he said.

There is already interest in the Sampit property, Tucker told the commission. It has access by road, rail and barge. Utilities are nearby. “You can’t find those combination of characteristics in many places on the East Coast,” Tucker said. “This property gives us a competitive advantage.”

But residents who live along Pennyroyal Road south of the Sampit River told the commission – and County Council when the rezoning came up for the first of three readings this week – that there are other large tracts around the county where industry can locate that don’t have the potential impact on the environment. “We have been chosen as sacrificial lambs,” said Ron Church, an area resident.

Opponents packed the County Council chambers for both meetings, many wearing stickers that said “Save the Sampit.” “The Sampit is an endangered river,” said Walter Bratcher, whose riverfront home is adjacent to the timber tract.

Tucker said the county has no offers from industries at the moment. The resale of property would require a hearing and council’s approval, he said.

“I don’t want my tax dollars used for land speculation,” Eileen Johnson, an area resident, said.

Elizabeth Krauss, who chairs the commission, said “planned development” zoning would answer many concerns, but planning staff said that would require a detailed plan. “I think Mr. Tucker understands the position we’ve been put in,” Krauss said.

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