The Marshall family, as an attorney representing them reminded county commissioners recently, has been in Columbia County since before the county existed.
Thus, members of that family are unlikely to do anything to harm the county that has been their home for multiple generations.
Nice sentiment. But it wont be much comfort to residents in the North Belair area if a worst-case development scenario comes true.
The possibility arises in a barely noticed little debate recently between Bill Coleman, representing the Marshalls, and Columbia County commissioners. The debate ended in what can be construed as nothing happening at all - but in this case, nothing is pretty significant.
The issue involves 14 acres of Marshall land on North Belair Road. Currently, the land is zoned industrial. Its a holdover from the 1970s, when commissioners zoned a large swath of land along Industrial Park Drive for what later be-came the countys first industrial park.
No way would county commissioners rezone a piece of property in that area, along the largely residential Belair Road, and allow it to be used for light industry.
But they just did.
Heres how it happened. The Marshalls asked to rezone the 14 acres to community commercial. The property is along the currently proposed path of a rerouted North Belair, if the Department of Transportation turns the road into a divided four-lane highway.
The road would cut through the Marshall property. With a CC zoning, the family wants to build a class A office building on three acres, and reserve the rest for commercial uses.
County planners wanted the whole parcel zoned professional. That would allow the office building, but it would prevent less-attractive commercial development - such as gas stations and used-car lots - from popping up on the rest of the parcel.
The Marshalls balked. They to study it some more. They want the ability to commercially develop without the restrictions of professional-only zoning.
The problem, county planners know, is that once a piece of land is zoned, subsequent owners are under no obligation to carry on the goodwill of previous owners. The Marshalls may protect the area from less-desirable development, but the next owner could build anything the new zoning would allow.
So Coleman asked to pull the zoning off the table. Four commissioners agreed. Back to the drawing board.
Not so fast, though. In the blink of an eye, by allowing the zoning application to be withdrawn, those four commissioners actually voted to keep industrial zoning across the street from Northwoods, around the corner from Chimney Hill, next door to Marshall Place, across from the courthouse.
County Commission Chairman Barry Fleming, with Planning and Zoning Chairman Steve Brown nodding agreement, argued for seizing the opportunity to remove the industrial zoning from an incompatible area. When the opportunity comes to make a correction without causing significant harm, we should do that, Fleming said. I wouldnt want to be sitting up here being asked why I didnt do something when I could.
Lets hope it doesnt come to that. Lets hope the Marshalls dont get tired of the complicated process and decide to sell the property outright. And lets hope the new owner doesnt decide to put in, say, a complex of mini-storage warehouses.
But if that does happen, it wont be because of loyalty to a family name. Itll be because commissioners wouldnt pull the trigger when they had a good opportunity in their sights.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.