2017-05-19 / News

No vote from Columbia City Council on Dreher rezoning

No vote was taken on the Dreher High School rezoning at the monthly Columbia City Council meeting Tuesday, May 16.

“Give us the time to deliberate and discuss and make the right long-term decision,” Mayor Steve Benjamin said. “I disagreed with very little I heard this evening. I heard two very different arguments at times from different sides of the isle and no one was wrong.”

Benjamin came to the decision after more than three hours of public comment.

Residents packed council chambers and marched to the podium by the dozens to speak to city council and give either their approval or disapproval for the proposal that, if approved, would allow Richland School District One to build new tennis courts and a new athletic field behind Dreher High School.

Tuesday was the first time the proposal was brought in front of city council.

The proposal brought before council was a revised edition, since the first draft was taken off the table following a vote against the plan by the planning commission in December.

Despite the revisions, the planning commission still voted 7- 0 against the proposal, while the city staff recommended approval.

The revised proposal asks for Dreher High School to be rezoned RS-2 instead of the original C1. The athletic field would have four light poles, instead of six and will not include a sound system or press box. Both the field and the tennis courts would have a 9:00 p.m. curfew.

As expected, the residents who spoke were nearly evenly divided among those who support the project and those who didn’t.

Charles Appleby said, “Over the years schools like A.C. Flora and Hammond have been allowed to expand their facilities. These are thriving schools in the middle of neighborhoods, in the heart of the area where they are zoned. Why is Dreher different? Why do the hard working students and families going to Dreher not deserve the same on campus amenities? The neighborhood of Shandon voted unanimously of supporting Dreher and equal treatment. I’d be surprised if you could find a neighborhood zoned for Dreher that disagrees.”

Former Columbia City Councilman Hamilton Osborne Jr. opposed the facilities.

“In 2003 when the current PUD zoning of Dreher was adopted, I was a member of Columbia City Council. The school district needed the PUD zoning in order to rebuild Dreher on the existing site. The alternative was to move Dreher to a new site at the edge of town.

“The school district agreed it would not and could not construct any athletic facilities on the open space. If the PUD documents had not contained the restrictions for use of the open space, I would not have voted for the PUD zoning and the PUD zoning might not have passed.

“If the PUD zoning had not passed, Dreher would not have been rebuilt where it is today. We are now being told the new athletic facilities are essential to the future of Dreher. I do not agree. Dreher is and always has been one of the state’s flagship schools. Dreher does not require new athletic facilities to retain that distinction.”

Current and future Dreher students like Chris Crabtree, Matthew Campbell, and Reisy Dillard offered their side. Crabtree and Campbell spoke on how the participation for the football team has declined because players are moving to other schools. Dillard told council of how she injured her hip during junior varsity soccer tryouts at Hand Middle School because Dreher didn’t have a field for the tryouts to take place.

Following the public comment, Benjamin closed the meeting with some thoughts.

“Many of us are hearing this presentation for the very first time, other than through e-mails and snail mail. We owe this community to make a decision, but to make it in a defined period of time, a very short period of time.”

Benjamin defined the period as one to two months.

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