Earlewood neighborhood opposes business
When Sabrina Patterson drove by the corner of River Drive and Broad River Road in Columbia, she noticed something a lot of people might just disregard. Small city of Columbia zoning notices caught her eye on the brightly colored red and yellow exterior of a title loan store.
Concerned about what might happen to the property, Patterson approached Ford Mason, president of the Earlwood Community Citizen’s Organization. He searched the zoning report he normally receives from the city and discovered the business was applying for special exception to do payday loans in addition to title loans.
“We had a little trouble with them in the very beginning,” Mason said. “The owners promised to give the building a retro look but instead painted it yellow and red.” The new zoning board hearing gave the neighborhood the opportunity to oppose the zoning request.
The title loan store, which has no official name, is required to have what the city calls a “special exception.” A special exception could be required for a certain business in all or only some of the zoning areas. Title loan stores, veterinary services, day cares are all examples of businesses that require special exception in certain zoning districts. For example, the title loan store requires a special exception in every district in which they are allowed to operate, commerical districts C1– C6, industrial districts M1–M2, and UTD, urban transitional district. These businesses have to apply to the zoning board in order to open the business. Once an application is submitted to the zoning administrator, a sign must be posted on the property 15 days prior to the hearing.
A lot of times that sign may not even be noticed, or the report sent to the neighborhood president could arrive only a week before the hearing making it very difficult for the citizens to appear at the hearing to protest.
“People need to be aware of zoning signs,” Patterson said. “People don’t notice them and suddenly the business just pops up.” Once a business has been approved by the zoning council there is very little that can be done to protest it.
In the case of the title loan store on River Drive, the Earlewood neighborhood had advanced notice but were mostly unaware of the zoning rules that would allow them to effectively protest the application. “When a neighborhood or citizen opposes a legal business it is very difficult,” said Chris Barczak of the City of Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals. “The people who oppose the application have to present a united front that attacks the criteria.”
The city code in Sec. 17-112 Powers and duties part two, subsection b lists five criteria for special exceptions:
1. Traffic impact;
2. Vehicle and pedestrian safety;
3. Potential impact of noise, lights, fumes, or obstruction of air flow on adjoining property;
4. Adverse impact of the proposed use on the aesthetic character of the environs, to include the possible need for screening from view; and
5. Orientation and spacing of improvements or buildings.
It is up to the business to prove their establishment will not adversely affect the area in relation to the criteria above. The community then has to present a solid case to prove otherwise.
In the first zoning approval meeting in which the business and the community stated their cases before the board, Patterson and the Earlewood neighborhood opposed the business on the basis of aesthetics, harm to the community, and abundance of already existing payday loan businesses on Broad River Road. (Over 10 such businesses exist.) Unfortunately for Earlewood, their objections are either highly subjective or not applicable in relation to the criteria. “We can’t restrict a business based on existing competition,” Barczak said. “Aesthetics are also a problem because one person’s description of what is pleasing may be different from someone else's. We need a clearer set of rules. Right now the rules are so vague.”
One of the first steps a community can take in preventing unwanted businesses from entering the area is to pay close attention to all zoning signs, a duty that is not exclusively left up to the neighborhood association. Once a sign is noticed, as many members of the community as can attend should show up at the zoning board meeting and appoint a representative who can effectively present the community’s objections in accordance with the zoning criteria. Petitions can also be helpful, although according to Barczak, it alone cannot prohibit the board from approving an application.
Barczak suggests every applicant for zoning approval submit a rendering of what the building will look like so the board can take that into consideration. Currently, there is no such rule in place. A rendering may have prohibited the title loan store from painting the building bright red and yellow, thereby eliminating the aesthetics objection by the community.
At the February 14 zoning board meeting, the title loan store’s application was deferred because it was incomplete. A tentative meeting could take place on March 14 when the board would consider a complete application.
Barczak offers another suggestion for business owners to help alleviate situations such as the one that occurred in Earlewood. “Business owners should attend neighborhood meetings and really get to know the people wholive in the area they want to build a business in,” Barczak said.
Patterson, a business owner with plans to open a restaurant in the Earlewood area, did just that. She attended Earlewood Community Citizen’s Organization meetings regularly. Her connection and concern for the neighborhood is what led her to contact Mason about the zoning sign. “I want businesses to know that when you approach this neighborhood you’d better follow the rules,” she said.
“Some of these measures could be seen as anti–business,” Barczak said, “but if businesses are trying to take advantage of the rules, the community has the right to present their objection.”
Criteria for special exception
1. Traffic impact;
2. Vehicle and pedestrian safety;
3. Potential impact of noise, lights, fumes,
or obstruction of air flow on adjoining
4. Adverse impact of the proposed use on
the aesthetic character of the environs, to
include the possible need for screening
from view; and
5. Orientation and spacing of
improvements or buildings.
• Pay attention to all
to become aware of
• When faced with a
situation, be well
versed in the criteria
required to receive a
• Gather neighbors to
attend the zoning