Update: Response on Apartments @ HBR

Recently, a proposal for an apartment complex at Harrison Bridge Road and Hipps Road was brought to the Planning Commission.  Public comment both at the public hearing and after via email lead me to post this.

After, I was asked more specifically about my decision-making process, and what might constitute a compelling reason.  This was my response:

While I cannot speak to how other Councilmembers make their decisions about zoning/annexation proposals, I can tell you how I make mine.  When I ran for office, I promised to always do my “homework,” and that’s what I do.  For zoning/annexation proposals set to come before Council, that first means reading the staff report and asking any questions.  The staff report provides background information. It also tells me what the Planning Commission has voted, whether there was any public comment at the public hearing, and offers the recommendation of city staff.

When reviewing these materials, I am first looking for a positive recommendation from both the Planning Commission and city staff.  If there is not a positive recommendation from both, I am not inclined to vote in favor of that proposal unless there are some really compelling reasons to do so.

In this case, to help determine that, I asked for some additional information ahead of the staff report, since several people had contacted me about it.  The City Planning Manager, Mr. Jason Knudsen, offered me some of the information that would have been included in the report as well as some additional details. Mr. Knudsen informed me the Planning Commission voted to deny this request 5-2. He indicated that at the public hearing there were several comments, all of which fell into three categories: traffic, density, and location in regards to a single-family home.  Most of the feedback that I personally received from the public fell into those same categories.  Traffic, obviously, must be addressed by SCDOT.  Mr. Knudsen did offer his opinion that the subject property might actually improve the intersection, which has a high number of accidents, by removing trees that block the view of drivers.  He also told me about plans for a left turn lane to be added at The Cottages at Harrison Bridge Rd. that would alleviate some of the traffic concerns expressed by the public.

In terms of the density issue, I understand why people would be wary of high density housing near them—they want the rural feel they bought into.  However, I also understand that the city limits of Simpsonville are but 9 miles wide, and if we want to continue to support the growth of the city, we have to grow out—there just isn’t room within the city limits to add housing.  In Mr. Knudsen’s response to me, one thing that stood out was this statement: “The City has a need to provide affordable housing for all of its citizens.”  I asked him to elaborate on that and specifically asked the following questions: “Do we have data/evidence that we do not have adequate housing for all citizens?  Does the statement imply that there is housing for some citizens and not others? If so, is there data to back that up?”  Mr. Knudsen explained to me that his statement is based on the fact that he meets with a lot of different developers and real estate agents.  These meetings help to determine how the housing stock is doing and where we may be deficient. According to him, “We’ve known for some time that our apartment stock is dated and we don’t have desirable apartments for the business professional. I don’t have hard data to back this up but these developers don’t just build to build, they build where their product will be utilized and be profitable.” Certainly, this makes sense to me—although I would be comfortable with stronger evidence. I am a data-driven decision maker, so I would be interested in some hard evidence to back this up.  For example, I know that in Simpsonville, just over 65% of residents are homeowners.  Is that because our population is one that prefers homeownership to renting, or is it because we do not have rentals that are appropriate for or appealing to a segment of our population (i.e. the business professional mentioned by Mr. Knudsen)?  If Mr. Knudsen’s point holds true (and I assume it does): “developers build where their product will be utilized and profitable,” I would be interested in the information upon which developers are basing their decision.  I would assume there would be some research to support a decision to build.  That could be the kind of compelling information that would make me vote in favor of something denied by the Planning Commission, who may not have had that information at the time.

The last concern people had was about the home around which this apartment complex is to be built. This is a concern for me because, to be frank, it feels like bully tactics. And that doesn’t sit well with me.  It seems like an attempt to push the current property owner out: sell to us, but if you don’t, we’ll just build around you.  And who wants an apartment complex built around their home? No one. So it feels like an attempt to force the property owner out, and I would have a really hard time supporting that.  If this situation were somehow resolved, that resolution could also be a compelling reason to vote in favor of the development even though the Planning Commission recommended denial.

Mr. Knudsen is currently listening to the audio recording of that Planning Commission meeting to let me know what, if any, other concerns were raised by the Planning Commission members who voted to deny.  If any such concerns have been addressed between then and now, that could potentially make a difference.  In other words, if they would, with the most up-to-date information, vote differently today than they did originally, that would matter to me.

I hope this answers some of your questions and gives you some insight into my decision-making process.