Orangeburg City Council has delayed action on a rezoning request after some residents voiced concerns about placing apartments next to Edisto Memorial Gardens.

Among those speaking against the rezoning was former city councilwoman Joyce Rheney, who told council she can’t visualize the planned apartment complex next to the gardens.

“You have a beautiful entrance into the Edisto Gardens,” she said.

Council voted Tuesday to table second reading of the rezoning of the Orangeburg Pecan Company property on Russell Street. The rezoning was sought by the company that wants to build affordable workforce apartments on the property.

Council also rejected the sale of city-owned property next to the Orangeburg Pecan Company. The developer wants to purchase the land for about $17,500 for additional parking and green space.

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The parcels owned by Orangeburg Pecan total 2.02 acres, while the parcels owned by the city total.71 acres.

The property developer, however, says she can proceed with the apartments under the city’s current zoning and that the rezoning request was only to allow for additional parking and green space for the proposed apartments.

Georgia-based Prestwick Development wants to build an affordable, multi-family workforce housing community.

The proposal includes the construction of a $20 million to $30 million three-floor to four-floor apartment complex at the corner of Russell Street and Seaboard Street. The building is projected to have mixed one- to three-bedroom units.

The company is asking the city to rezone four properties at 761 Russell Street (the Orangeburg Pecan Company) from B-1, General Business to B-2, Central Business District to allow multi-family housing.

The rezoning request was previously unanimously approved by the Orangeburg City Planning Commission on April 18.

The current B-1, General Business designation allows for the construction of the apartments, but it would reduce the number of units that can be built.

The current city ordinance will allow 42 units or less on the site. The developer would also need to satisfy density and parking requirements, according to City Public Works Director John Singh.

With B-2 zoning, there is no density requirement and no specific parking requirement, meaning more than 42 units could be built in a B-2, Singh said.

While the apartments could be built in a B-1 zone, Singh said the “parking requirement may be difficult to meet, making the building prohibitive.”

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, workforce housing consultant Sarah Niemann told council the rezoning is not being requested to allow the apartments, but to allow for additional parking, a city space that would be incorporated as a welcome center and to open the space for recreational areas and landscaping. Neimann is representing Prestwick.

Under the current B-1 zoning, Prestwick is eligible for 43 units, Niemann said.

“I am asking to be allowed for 52 units with B-2 zoning,” she said.

Council voted 4-2 to table the rezoning of the parcels.

Mayor Michael Butler and council members Liz Zimmerman Keitt, Dr. Kalu Kalu and Richard Stroman all voted to table the rezoning. Council members Jerry Hannah and Annette Dees Grevious voted in opposition to tabling.

Councilwoman Sandra Knotts was absent.

Keitt initially made a motion to approve the rezoning request with the understanding that the request was simply to rezone the properties from B-1, General Business to B-2, Central Business District and not necessarily to allow the specific project to proceed.

But Stroman said if the zoning is changed, the apartments can proceed.

It was then decided to table the matter.

Following the meeting, Stroman said the rezoning matter will be brought up at the next meeting.

But there was some legal confusion about whether or not the matter can be brought up again.

City Attorney Michael E. Kozlarek said “Under Robert’s Rules, the motion to table, the item that was tabled would need to be withdrawn from the table or removed from the table during the same meeting that it was tabled.”

In other words, the table caused the motion to die, Kozlarek said.

Following the meeting, Niemann said “we are reevaluating whether we can still bring the proposal forward.”

Council then voted 4-2 against selling three city-owned parcels near the intersection of Russell Street and Seaboard Street to the developers.

The property is located behind the Orangeburg Pecan building and is not a part of the Edisto Memorial Gardens.

Prior to the votes, council heard from several individuals about the development.

The meeting had a standing-room only crowd.

Niemann told council the plans for the apartments fit within the city’s existing plans for its growth.

A downtown vision plan put in place in 2014 called for development from the gardens to Railroad Corner. She also said the city’s comprehensive plan calls for almost 900 multi-family units by 2025.

“How many have you been able to achieve?” Niemann said.

Only one apartment complex has been added in the last ten years, she said. “Clearly, by your own comprehensive plan, you have not met your housing goal.”

The city’s own comprehensive plan calls for mixed-use activities including “some new in-town residential” on Russell Street between Broughton Street and the Edisto Memorial Gardens, she said.

The city’s plan also identifies the area between Cuttino Street and the gardens as an “urban community, mixed-use character area,” which mentions residential development.

Niemann said the apartment complex is going to be high-end and dispelled misconceptions that the properties are low-income or subsidized.

Niemann thanked those who have contacted her personally about the project.

“There is a lot of misinformation and fearmongering happening with lies and mistruths,” Niemann said. “The truth is that Orangeburg is in need of quality workforce affordable housing.”

Neimann claimed there are waiting lists for affordable workforce housing.

“Where do you expect new professionals who move into the area to live?” Niemann said. “There is no answer. Everything starts with housing. Housing must come first to promote all levels of economic opportunity.”

Niemann noted the proposed zoning change from B-1 to B-2 was the same change approved for the Railroad Corner project on the upper end of Russell Street. The city plans to revitalize the corner with student housing, shops and restaurants.

She said the Prestwick project received letters of support from Sen. Brad Hutto, Congressman James Clyburn and 50 local residents and business owners near the property.

“Do you not hear the voices of all those residents?” Niemann said. “Do they not count? They are also your constituents who vote for you.”

The proposed apartments would require all tenants to show proof of employment and to receive criminal and credit background checks.

The apartments will be for those who, on average, earn 56 percent of the county’s median household income: $52,200.

The people who would live in the apartments include, “your firemen, city workers, custodians, bus drivers, teachers, public safety officers, computer workers, restaurant workers, retail workers, librarians,” Niemann said. “If given the opportunity, these residents would live and work right in Orangeburg.”

Niemann also said restaurant owners have told her of thin profit margins and struggles to keep doors open.

“Without the demographic, how do they keep their doors open?” Niemann said. “They are leaving because they were unable to make a living economically.”

The public speaks

Rheney agreed there’s a need for workforce housing, “but this is not the right place.”

She noted the city identified areas that were blighted years ago and those areas have yet to be developed for housing. Rheney suggested those other properties be looked at for development.

Orangeburg Pecan Company owner Freddy Felder expressed his support for the project. He said it fills a housing need, doesn’t cost the city anything and actually benefits the city through property taxes.

He said concerns about the apartments’ impact on the gardens is unwarranted.

“Do you honestly think these people are going to spend that kind of money and build something that is going to look worse than what is there now?” Felder said. “What is there now are 60, 70, 80 almost 100-year-old buildings and you see the backside from the gardens, not the front. This housing is needed. This is private development, which is needed. This is zero cost to the city. There is no comparable private investment in Orangeburg at this time.”

Harvey Elwood said he believes the housing development could be a catalyst for growth of Orangeburg.

“Most of the graduates we have from our universities and other institutions, whether public or private, leave and go elsewhere,” Elwood said. “We don’t have the housing or the infrastructure that has been created to afford these people the opportunity to live here and thrive here and grow this community as it should.”

He also said the foot traffic from the people living in the apartments will help downtown businesses.

Broughton Street Cafe owner Greg Bennett said business has fallen off in the last year in a half. The business has been open for two years.

“There is no foot traffic,” Bennett said. “We have nothing that is actually happening. We are able to live, but we want to do more than live.”

He said, “When we heard about this project coming up, we thought you know what: ‘Amen, Lord you have put something else in front of us that can help benefit this business and not only this business but every other business or anybody else that wants to come into Orangeburg.’ They are not going to come right now.

“We need to have some sort of housing here. This to me seems to be a great idea.”

Orangeburg resident Dave McCully said he moved to the city because he loves it and the rose gardens.

“The issue is not workforce housing,” McCully said. He said, “600,000 people visit the rose gardens every year. That lot is the gateway for those tourists to turn the corner to visit downtown businesses. If you have housing there when they get to the end, that will just be the end. They will just get in their cars and go home.”

McCully suggested the spot be a place for a boutique hotel where people have weddings and industrial developers can be hosted.

“Do we need workforce housing? Yes,” McCully said. “I don’t care if it a block over. That corner lot is pivotal to attract tourism to downtown, which is a key market for us developing downtown.”

Scott Weaver expressed his support for the project, noting the company has a track record of building such developments.

“We are losing citizens left and right,” Weaver said. “You have Dorchester County and Berkeley County all grown up. We are getting nothing. We are dying. We need life and we need this.”

Local contractor and developer Chad Rast asked council what they want to see, noting the property checks all the boxes for workforce housing.

“The opportunity to put this very aesthetic-looking complex on the corner and to provide the housing to me is a lot better than a dilapidated building,” Rast said. “I do agree we have a lot of businesses downtown that will benefit from this. I think we will have a lot more businesses that will come to the area.”

Rast said the residents of the apartments could be his employees.

“I can’t find them,” he said. “I have almost $1 million worth of equipment for sale right now because I can’t put people in the seats of my equipment to do the work that I need to do.”

Orangeburg resident and Realtor Rodney Tumbleston asked council what city has reinvigorated itself by bringing in low-income housing. He said he was unaware of any.

Orangeburg needs high-end apartments, he said.

“You’ve got South Carolina State University,” Tumbleston said. “The average faculty income there is $100,000 or more.”

“Workforce housing is needed. I just don’t know if that is the spot moving forward,” Tumbleston said.

Orangeburg resident Michael Holloway said, “We are the Garden City. People come to the gardens from out of town and other places to see the gardens.

“They don’t come to see this. This is somewhat of an eyesore in my opinion to the beautiful gardens that we do have. Orangeburg needs green spaces as well, not hard spaces.”

In other business:

• Orangeburg Department of Public Utilities employee Dhayalini C. Garvin was recognized for her years of service at the utility’s wastewater treatment plant.

• Orangeburg’s Department of Public Utilities was recognized as a reliable public power provider by the American Public Power Association.

The utility obtained the gold distinction. The award is based on the utility meeting industry-leading practices in reliability, safety, workforce development and system improvement.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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