Things were confused and tense during parts of Kershaw County Council’s Oct. 13 meeting. The culprits: property owner zoning change requests and a potential $17 million general obligation bond for infrastructure improvements at the county’s industrial parks. In each case, council considered second readings of ordinances which must pass three readings to be enacted.
The first zoning request asked to change a nearly 6-acre lot at U.S. 1 adjacent to Shepherd Acres in Cassatt from General Development to RD-2 (Rural Resource District). According to documents attached to council’s agenda, owner Christopher Armentrout wanted to be able to place singlewide manufactured homes on the lot.
County Administrator Vic Carpenter said the County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval, and council voted unanimously to approve the zoning change.
The second request, from Carroll and Claudine Armentrout, would have changed an approximately 5-acre lot on Old Stagecoach Road from MRD-1, a rural zoning designation, which only permits doublewide manufactured homes to RD-2, which allows singlewide manufactured homes. The commission recommended denying the request partly because the property is surrounded by “vast expanses of … single-family site built homes.”
Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. made the motion to place the matter into discussion. Councilman Dennis Arledge seconded the motion.
The confusion began when Council Chairman Julian Burns asked County Attorney Ken DuBose whether this would be a case of dealing with a “double negative.”
“Do we approve the planning commission’s denial?” Burns asked.
“It comes on a denial; that’s correct. You passed it the first time,” DuBose answered, referring to first reading of the ordinance several weeks ago. “If you pass it the second time, you’ll be approving the ordinance. Theirs is just a recommendation. If you don’t pass it, you’re voting to deny it.”
“If we pass it, we vote to deny it,” Burns said.
“You’re not upholding their action,” Carpenter said. “They have merely sent you a recommendation. You’re taking the action.”
“If you make a motion to … on second reading, it would be not taking their recommendation,” DuBose said.
At this point, several people attending the meeting began laughing, realizing council was confused by what action they should take.
“Mr. DuBose, let’s take another English lesson,” Burns said, eliciting more laughter.
“You vote on the ordinance,” DuBose said. “If you vote yes, you approve it on second reading. Or you vote no (which) means you do not approve it on second reading.”
Councilman Jimmy Jones tried to clear things up further.
“If you vote for this, you’re voting to amend the ordinance for the approval of a singlewide,” Jones said. “If you don’t vote, or vote against it, you’re denying the request by the homeowner.”
“So, it’s a double negative,” Burns repeated. “If you vote no, you’re denying it going to a singlewide.”
Jones then brought up another point, saying Tucker would have to vote in favor of the ordinance because of his motion. At first, it seemed Jones was saying Arledge would have to vote in favor of the ordinance as well, since he seconded Tucker’s motion.
“When you made the motion, you have to follow through with the vote. You can’t change your vote,” Jones said.
“No, that’s not true,” Tucker countered, leading to very brief argument with Jones, who clarified he did not mean Arledge couldn’t change his vote.
Ultimately, with DuBose’s assistance, Tucker agreed he would have to vote for the ordinance under council’s rules of order, but expressed being upset with Jones for bringing Arledge into the argument. DuBose then summarized how the vote would have to work, with Tucker voting for and Arledge being able to change his vote.
“So, I was right,” Jones said.
Finally, council voted to deny the Armentrouts’ request on a 5-1 vote.
Following the same rules, council also voted against a request to change a 5.38-acre lot on Green Hill Road near Elgin from R-15 (residential) to B-2 (business). Council voted 2-3, with Jones and Tucker voting in support and Councilman C.R. Miles abstaining.
Tensions rose with the next item, the proposed $17 million economic development bond. As Carpenter explained, this constituted a vote on “Plan 4,” which includes using $4 million of county reserve funds, something Miles said he would rather not do.
“Due to the recent storm, would this not be a good idea to postpone on second reading of this until we see how we fared after the storm -- what we have to repair -- so we wouldn’t be depleting our reserve funds?” Miles asked.
Carpenter said the two funding issues aren’t necessarily connected, and a favorable vote would not necessarily mean issuing the bonds immediately. Answering another question from Miles, Carpenter said annual payments of $390,000 on the bond would not deplete the $4 million reserve, which might be needed to pay for the reconstruction of roads and bridges damaged in this month’s flood.
Jones, too, asked his fellow councilmen to postpone the vote.
“We’ve had millions of dollars of damage and people have lost their homes, some people have lost a lot, they’ve lost everything, and we’re going to move forward with a bond obligation such as this,” Jones said. “I would love to see the council slow down a little bit and get through this tragedy we just witnessed and have been through and then take this up at a later time.”
Tucker asked Carpenter if council had chosen “Plan 3,” or plans 5 or 6 (both offered by Jones) for economic development-related infrastructure funding, council would have needed to consider a referendum because the reserves would have been drawn down “substantially, up front.” Carpenter agreed the three plans were “front-end loaded.”
Jones took exception to Tucker’s inquiry, saying his fellow councilman was being “very misleading.” Tucker said this was Jones’ opinion, to which Jones answered, “And, I’m right.” When Tucker tried to respond, Burns stopped him, asking him to allow Jones to finish speaking. Tucker asked Burns to do the same when Jones interrupts him.
“I’m getting very tired of hearing this spin and the rhetoric thrown on it about depleting our reserves,” Jones said, claiming it could take up to three years to do so. “And to sit there and say what is absolute propaganda … look, you’re spending $17.2 million, you’re spending our $4 million reserve, you’re building a 30-year debt with a $30 million possible payday. I’m just being honest, that’s what it is.”
Jones called having a “bare majority” of four council members voting in favor of the bond ordinance is “dangerous.” Tucker replied by mentioning times “when the shoe is on the other foot,” saying there have been other split votes which weren’t considered “dangerous.”
Council ultimately voted 4-2, with Jones and Miles voting against the bond ordinance.
In other business, council unanimously:
• passed resolutions supporting the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ purchase of 1,829 acres of former Liberty Hill Tract property, and a separate property near Ridgeway it uses as a Lake Wateree law enforcement office;
• passed an inducement resolution and first reading of an ordinance setting up a fee in lieu of taxes agreement with “Project Aurora,” a potential $80 million, 20-job investment by what Carpenter described as an “existing;”
• voted to allow a court to close Hicks Road if the court so decides;
• reappointed Henry Walker to the county’s planning and zoning commission; and
• voted to accept the second-lowest bid of $106,929 from Michael Baker International of Columbia to manage an approximately 1,400-foot extension of Steeplechase Road to accommodate a recent expansion by Hengst Inc.
Lastly, Carpenter reported upgrades to the Kershaw County Detention Center will cost much more than originally thought due to the need to replace, rather than merely repair the entire facility’s HVAC/smoke evacuation system. Carpenter said the original cost of repairs for this equipment was estimated at $25,000. He said he will be coming back to council at a later date for a $825,000 capital project request, kicking the entire cost of upgrading the county jail to $1.8 million.