092117 Economic development: Council will giving industrial rezoning more study
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Economic development: Council will giving industrial rezoning more study

By Nikki Best
Coastal Observer

Orange stickers reading “Save the Sampit” flecked the shirts of more than 60 people who attended this week’s County Council meeting. The hot topic was a measure to rezone 948 acres of land between the Sampit River and Pennyroyal Road. Supporters and opponents offered more than an hour of public testimony. The measure passed its second reading, but was amended and remanded for further study before returning for a third reading.

The Planning Commission rejected the proposed rezoning of the site from forest and agriculture to heavy industrial use. The questions raised by the commission echoed the concerns of residents along the river south of Georgetown about changing the zoning. More than a month has passed since the subject was brought up and the people have received no definitive answers. So they keep asking.

“What kind of industry will follow,” asked Sandra Ladson, the pastor of St. Michael AME Church, which is adjacent to the property. “They’re talking about the unique property with barge access. Where? They talk about the rail spur, there is no rail spur.” There’s an easement for a rail extension, but it would only go to the side of 3V Chemical, which is not to the property in question, Ladson said. “How are you getting the rail there?”

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. It is adjacent to 3V Chemical and Mauresina Road runs through the center of the property. The future land use map shows the property as industrial making the rezoning application consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan.

Brian Tucker, the county director of Economic Development, spoke in favor of the project based on the economic impact the property could provide if rezoned, with respect to the wetlands, but Tucker had a question of his own. “If not here, where? We need jobs in Georgetown County.”

Statistics shared by Tucker state 13,000 people leave the county each day for work, 6,707 of those drive more than 100 miles round trip. “All of those people deserve the opportunity to work in Georgetown County,” he said.

More than 28 percent of the full time workforce lives below the poverty level. Between 2005-2015, the county lost 7 percent of its workforce and 13 percent of the businesses. “What are we doing to provide those residents opportunities for good jobs, stable jobs,” he said. “This site allows us the opportunity to compete for jobs that offer good wages to our residents.”

But the promise is not enough for the Pennyroyal Road residents. They want concrete answers.

“No one in the Save the Sampit group is opposed to economic development,” said Ron Church, president of the Harmony Township Homeowners Association. “We are not opposed to a shovel-ready site, we are opposed to developing this site.”

Church cautioned the council from making similar mistakes to those of the former council that allowed a steel mill to be built on the Georgetown waterfront. “Our steel mill serves as a very good case study of what can happen in the real world despite DHEC, the EPA or any local or state environmental requirements,” he said. “This is the reality of what we stand to get along this over-industrialized river, if you move forward with this plan.”

County Council Member Steve Goggans spoke first on the measure after the public. He offered a motion for the reading to move forward, but with amendments that require the county to complete its due diligence.

“One of those would be that the rezoning would be referred to the Land Use committee,” he said. Goggans also offered the creation of a committee to represent the people of Save the Sampit alongside the council’s Land Use committee, and reasonable restrictions placed on the design guidelines for the site. “The consideration here is that of the community.”

The measure passed with Goggans’ caveats 6 to 1. Everett Carolina, who represents the people along the Pennyroyal Road corridor dissented. “This is a time of tough choices and critical decisions,” he said. “When we move forward in Georgetown, we have to find what I will call a happy medium for the future.”

Ladson is hopeful that the people will be heard and that all the questions will be answered, but she remains wary. “I hope it’s not just something they are putting together to appease us,” she said of the special committee Goggans said would be created. “I don’t live in the district, but I have a vested interest because my people do. I love the Sampit River. Really and truly you don’t have to live there, if you care about Georgetown County you should care about this.”

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