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Development plans: Good, bad and ugly

Posted: Sunday, December 11, 2005

While it is unlikely that all sides coming out of the discussion over the massive Riverwood Plantation West are happy on all counts, the spirit of compromise in the project should be reassuring to skeptics who fear such developments are simply rubber-stamped by pliant public officials.

They may need that reassurance after a couple of hotly contested actions by commissioners this past week.

No one doubts the second phase of the Greenbrier-area development will be big. The owners are working with 1,500 acres of land, with plans to build more than 3,100 residences - from single-family homes to apartments.

That means a lot more kids in local schools, and a lot more cars on local streets. Because the schools are already overcrowded and the streets already congested, there are plenty of reasons to oppose any new development until the infrastructure can catch up - but especially one this large.

The good news, as Columbia County Planning Director Jeff Browning points out, is that it will take nearly 20 years for the project to be fully completed. The county has little excuse, then, for failing to keep pace with infrastructure - especially with the help they're getting from the developer.

For example, the Riverwood owners are setting aside land for a new elementary and middle school, and building a second road into the existing Greenbrier complex.

The state is lending a hand, too, as the county continues to work with the Department of Transportation to extend William Few Parkway to Hardy-McManus Road, providing more traffic relief. And the DOT recently announced plans to widen Washington Road toward William Few.

Can more be done? Absolutely. The crooked, deadly William Few Parkway must be made safer. And the county should continue to study implementation of impact fees to provide funds to help take the burden for such infrastructure off of existing property owners.

The Riverwood project is expected to receive approval from Columbia County commissioners Dec. 20. Citizens who still have questions about Phase II should attend to make their voices heard before the vote is final.

Already getting final approval, with less of an effort toward compromise, is the county's plan to run a sewer line along Betty's Branch, and a developer's plan to shoehorn 170 townhomes on 36 acres off Old Belair Road.

To a chorus of boos and catcalls from the audience, commissioners approved both proposals Tuesday. The sewer-line project is basically drawing NIMBY opposition - literally, nearby residents don't want it running through their back yards. But commissioners certainly would be feeling less heat if they'd done a better job of protecting the county's streambeds from development in the past; their benign neglect has done little to inspire confidence.

More contentious is the Old Belair rezoning, which will allow high-density housing right up against existing single-family homes on large-acreage lots. Commissioners' unanimous approval of the ugly project, just days after the plan had been rejected by the Planning and Zoning Board, has left neighbors of the project feeling betrayed.

The Riverwood proposal, with its developers taking the project slowly and listening to nearby residents' concerns, is an example of how such projects ought to work. Tuesday's votes demonstrate the opposite - to Columbia County's detriment.


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