It's hard to find people today who think it was a good idea to build 125 lakefront townhomes in North Charleston next door to a round-the-clock construction company that makes asphalt and crushes cement.
"We made a mistake by allowing that complex to go there in the first place, right by a construction company," said Councilwoman Dot Williams, who represents the area, not far from the Tanger outlet mall.
The first of the Lake Palmetto townhomes went on the market nearly 10 years ago, and they remain the uneasy neighbors of Banks Construction, whose motto is "paving South Carolina since 1948." Banks' work includes taxpayer-funded road projects such as Palmetto Commerce Parkway and the repaving of roads in Charleston and Mount Pleasant.
Not surprisingly, Lake Palmetto residents have issues with the noise and dust generated by Banks, often throughout the night. Banks Construction has taken steps to limit the noise and dust, and residents concede there have been improvements.
But now there's a larger issue on the table, and North Charleston has put it on the fast track for approval.
The city's long-term land-use plan calls for the roughly 40 acres occupied by Banks Construction and affiliated companies to become less industrial, someday, but Banks has asked the city to rezone the land for heavy industry.
It's the broadest zoning classification, allowing just about anything. "It's like a bait-and-switch," said Lake Palmetto resident Mike Bechtel, who bought a townhouse there three years ago. "Now that the residents live here, the city is changing the zoning nearby."
"They work at night, we get that," Bechtel said. "The heavy industrial (zoning request) scares us because of what they could bring in."
Banks Construction President Reid Banks said the construction firm doesn't plan to change what it's doing on the land, and doesn't need the zoning change in order to continue doing business. He and his lawyer said "heavy industrial" zoning would better reflect their current operations.
"This is a rezoning in name only," said Jonathan Yates, Banks' lawyer, at a city Planning Commission meeting Monday when the rezoning was recommended for approval. "The historic and present uses would continue."
An unanswered question is, why would the city grant controversial "heavy industrial" zoning, in conflict with North Charleston's comprehensive land-use plan, if that zoning isn't needed by the land owner in order to do business?
"There has been a rising swell of opposition across the pond, in recent years, and I think Banks is trying to head off a potential challenge or lawsuit," suggested Ross Appel, a lawyer who was hired Monday by the Lake Palmetto residents.
North Charleston is sometimes hesitant to rezone land for heavy industry.
In one recent case, Charleston County sought to rezone a property along Palmetto Commerce Parkway to heavy industrial, as a site for a planned recycling center, but backed down when faced with opposition from North Charleston residents and some public officials.
"I'm very concerned about M2 (heavy industrial) zoning so close to residential areas," Planning Commission Chairwoman Sue Thigpen said in the recycling center case. "If it's M2, anything goes."
Lake Palmetto residents are upset by the potential Banks Construction rezoning because of similar concerns about "anything goes," and because rezoning would permanently enshrine the heavy industrial use of that land. Zoning stays with land, so the area would be designated for heavy industry whether the Banks companies remain or someday decide to sell the properties - which the zoning change would make more valuable.
"I'm happy there and I like it the way it is," Lake Palmetto resident William Prioleau said at the meeting Monday. "If you rezone it to M2, what happens in a year, or five years?"
About 20 Lake Palmetto residents attended that meeting. Their councilwoman, Williams, did not.
Williams said she plans to support the rezoning when City Council holds a first vote on the issue Thursday evening. The city is working on a plan for a taxpayer-funded noise wall between the construction firm and the subdivision, she said Wednesday.
"The mayor has agreed that we will take responsibility for putting up a noise wall," Williams said. "We are going to protect them."
Mayor Keith Summey also has said he believes the city is to blame for allowing the homes to be constructed there, and that the city should take steps to help. Lake Palmetto - the lake itself - is a 35-foot-deep former borrow pit, where material was excavated for use in the construction of Interstate 26.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552.
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