After about six months of being deferred, a controversial rezoning request that will allow heavy industry on a 948-acre tract in the Pennyroyal community along the Sampit River has been approved by Georgetown County Council.
By a 5-2 vote, council approved third and final reading of the request during Tuesday's meeting, with amendments that name four types of industries that will not be considered -- oil and gas, landfills, paper mills and steel mills -- and extend buffers beyond the county requirements. Georgetown County plans to purchase the property for $3.7 million and bring in up to three industrial businesses.
The five "yes" votes were: Steve Goggans, John Thomas, Austin Beard, Johnny Morant and Lilly Jean Johnson. "No" votes were by Everette Carolina, whose district includes the Pennyroyal area, and Ron Charlton.
Carolina spoke at length during the discussion before the vote. He said the citizens have opposed this rezoning for many reasons and the issue was deferred so the council's land use committee could consider those concerns.
"As the stewards of Georgetown County, the citizens are watching our actions in this process," Carolina said. "To my knowledge, no one has come to say, "Rezone the property.'"
He also brought up the cost of the project, the fact that only 300 to 400 acres of the tract are buildable and that there are other industrial zones in the county that should be considered.
Four people spoke against the rezoning request during the public comment period of the meeting. They were Eileen Johnson, a resident; the Rev. Sandra Ladson, a local pastor; Marvin Neal, the president of the Georgetown Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and Amelia Thompson, a lawyer with the South Carolina Environmental Law Project.
They brought up concerns about pollution, traffic, noise and archaelogical finds on the property. Each asked council to deny the request and Thompson warned that the county may face a legal battle if the rezoning was approved.
County Economic Development Director Brian Tucker, who has been leading the county's efforts to rezone, purchase and market the property, said during his report to council that after the first land use committee meeting on the rezoning, he and his staff went back, re-evaluated information and talked to consultants to re-assess if the county has in this site what they think they have.
"We are convinced that this site gives us a significant advantage," he said. "This property is our best chance to attract projects that would move the economic needle in Georgetown County."
Read more about this issue and other decisions made by County Council in the Friday, May 25, print edition of the Georgetown Times.