John A. Carlos II (copy)

A sand trap on what was the 9th hole at the Crickentree Golf Course in Blythewood. A vote by Richland County Council on Tuesday means that E-Capital Management, a Texas company, can proceed with its plans to put about 200 houses on the former weed-infested golf course. File/John A. Carlos II/Special to The Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — Richland County Council has cleared the way for redevelopment of a golf course into additional housing, despite neighborhood concerns, marking the first time it has changed special zoning that was meant to prevent new construction on fairways and greens.

The 7-3 vote with one abstention on Tuesday means that E-Capital Management, a Texas company, can proceed with its plans to put about 200 houses on the former Crickentree weed-infested golf course near Blythewood, which has been closed since last year.

Many of the current property owners organized to oppose the zoning change, arguing that the addition of new housing would damage the value of their homes after paying higher prices for homes with a golf course view out their windows. The residents also argued that the zoning given to numerous courses in the county to protect them as recreational open space was never meant to change. 

To address neighbors' concerns, a 250-yard border of green space between older homes and the new construction was negotiated, with County Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson leading the discussion. The conservation buffer protecting that land still has not been completed, raising neighbors' fears that the developer could renege on the deal and even sell the land for another company to build on with no restrictions. 

Dickerson assured council members that the buffer would be put in place with the county's conservation commission and urged them to move forward with an issue in her district that has been sparking conflict for months.

"No one is going to develop on this 250 feet," Dickerson said.

After the meeting, Robert Fuller, the Columbia attorney representing E-Capital, assured neighbors that the conservation buffer would be used.  "We have no intention of not having the buffer," Fuller said.

Michy Kelly, whose Crickentree house overlooks what was the 14th fairway of the closed course, believes that the deal is the best that can be made of the situation, assuming that the buffer is put in place. "I feel that it is a win-win solution," Kelly said.

Others still wonder why the council didn't defend more strongly the special zoning known as "traditional recreation open space," which they believed was worded to make development impossible forever on the protected golf courses. The council's refusal to take that stand forced neighbors to negotiate for what they could get, according to Crickentree resident Traci Young Cooper. 

"We were in this compromising position to even get to the table," Cooper said. "It's shameful that we're even in this position."

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Some who opposed the course redevelopment argued that if the zoning were changed for Crickentree, other courses in the county's northeast corner would follow suit.

Several of those courses, however, have recently had a change in ownership and seem to be aiming to stay in the highly competitive golf business.

The Windermere Club in Northeast Richland was taken over in August by L&J Acquisitions, a company based in Snellville, Ga. It has been relaunched as the Blythewood Country Club, a semi-private golf club.

The WildeWood and Woodcreek golf courses, which have been managed together, have been spun off separately after the management company went into foreclosure, according to longtime area real estate agent Doug Bridges of Coldwell Banker.

A coalition of WildeWood neighbors has pledged up to $25,000 apiece to take over management of that course, he said. The developer of adjacent residential properties has taken over continued management of the Woodcreek golf course, Bridges said.

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