Sumter City Council faces double step over land development plan

Three floors above the Sumter Opera House stage Tuesday evening, Sumter City Council found itself dancing its own delicate two-step, and this was before they heard any water quality complaints.

For well before the public comment section on Tuesday evening’s agenda, council members had to cope with a somewhat controversial proposal, requesting they rezone a 12-acre piece of property on Patriot Parkway near Deschamps Road so that the owner can develop the agricultural land with multi-family housing units.

Not only did the elected officials have to balance the complaints of residents living nearby the area asking them to deny the change on one hand against the recommendation of their own planning department recommending the rezoning on the other, but they also needed to figure out if they could even do change the zoning in the first place, whether they wanted to or not.

You see, technically, the property isn’t even in Sumter city limits yet.

In addition to the zoning request, Knowlton Properties, the owner wanting to develop the land, has also petitioned city council to bring the lot, which borders Sumter, into the city.  But without the property actually in the city yet, and without the developer presenting an actual plan for the property for council members or local residents to react to (which is not required at this time), elected officials found themselves at a bit of a loss on how to respond to comments made during the public hearing on the matter.

This, however, didn’t stop area residents from voicing their opinion.

“Once you open the door to multi-family housing, it’s done.  They don’t have to address it again.  It’s done,” said Harvey Senter, an area resident and himself a real estate developer, who sold the parcel of land five years ago to the current owners.  “There’s a lot of people in the neighborhood walking on pins and needles tonight.”

Senter stressed to the council that when Patriot Parkway was first established, nearby landowners were assured the road from Sumter to Shaw Air Force Base would remain relatively undeveloped.

At the same time, it was pointed out that multi-family housing (often apartment complexes) are permissible zoning for the area within the city’s 2030 comprehensive plan.

Ultimately, council decided to pass the first of two readings necessary to bring the land into the city fold, but delayed any vote on whether or not to rezone the parcel if, in fact, the property ends up within city borders.

One of the reasons for the delay was the additional dilemma before council Tuesday night, in which they nearly found themselves unable to address this issue, or any other for that matter, at all.

In the history of Sumter City Council meetings, there have been various times that less than four non-government employee citizens attended the meeting, resulting in elected officials basically playing to an empty crowd.  Tuesday night, however, as the 5:30 p.m. meeting time arrived, Sumter City Council found itself with a near capacity audience but without enough council members present for a quorum.

Councilman Robert Galiano, who ended up serving as “temporary mayor pro-tempore” for the evening, explained to those on hand that, with Mayor Joe McElveen away at a national mayors’ conference, recently-elected council member Steven Corley also out-of-state and Mayor Pro Tempore Bubba Lowery home ill, the three council members present – himself, Calvin Hastie and David Merchant – would have to wait and see if councilwoman Ione Dwyer would arrive before they could start.

Dwyer, who is known for consistently arriving after meetings begin, arrived almost 20 minutes later, allowing Galiano to finally gavel the meeting into session.

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