COLUMBIA — Blythewood Town Councilman Sloan Griffin III calls his northern Richland County community one of the best kept secrets in the Midlands.
"Folks know Lexington. They don’t know Blythewood," he said.
But the secret is out.
As new homes have risen in northeast Richland County, the population of Blythewood has swollen, making it the fifth-fastest growing town in South Carolina.
From 2010 to 2020, Blythewood has grown 135 percent to 4,772 residents, according to 2020 Census population data. Its growth rate falls just behind Edisto Beach and ahead of the Charlotte suburb of Fort Mill.
Now Blythewood finds itself struggling to address the same issues seen in other high-growth areas of the state — namely traffic and a lack of funding for the infrastructure needed to improve it.
Lured by high-performing schools and quick interstate access to either Columbia or Charlotte, families are moving in as fast as homes can be built. The town is less than 30 minutes north of downtown Columbia and a little more than an hour south of Charlotte's airport.
“I’m one of those families,” Sloan Griffin said.
He, his wife, their toddler and their dog came from Greenwood when he took a job as an emergency manager.
“When you look at homes in Blythewood, that’s what you see,” he said of the family-heavy leaning.
Blythewood’s population has more than doubled in each of the last two census counts.
The town is a hub of growth throughout Northeast Richland. The population in the ZIP code surrounding the town has doubled, too, according to Mayor Bryan Franklin.
Blythewood Councilman Donald Brock had been living in downtown Columbia before making the move to the north.
“The schools we were zoned for were not bad,” he said. “But we wanted a little more for our kids.”
Worried about the heavy population surges in Lexington County, which is one of the state's fast growing, he and his family turned instead to look at schools in Richland School District Two that includes Blythewood.
Brock said, like for many who move there, landing in Blythewood was more of a happy accident. The home they were considering just happened to be within the town limits. When the price dropped to a point they could afford, they jumped on it.
State Sen. John Scott, a Democrat whose district covers Blythewood, said going into the 1990s, the town was conservative with residents opposing growth and also declining water and sewer service.
But schools filled up and the district built new ones to reduce crowding. Housing developments followed the water lines put in to serve the schools, Scott said.
"Now there are five high schools in that little area of land," he said referring to northern portions of Richland County. "The town is in the center of the growth."
Blythewood Councilman Larry Griffin, who has spent his entire life in the town, watched his home town go from two schools to 15 in a 10-mile radius.
"At one time, nobody wanted to move to Blythewood because it was country," he said. "We've gone from dirt roads and old homes to highways and subdivisions."
A large number of those looking for homes are moving in from out of state, particularly from the New England area — young families looking for a larger house, retirees settling around the town's golf courses and a large number of those working at Fort Jackson come there, said John Smith, a real estate broker with RE/MAX Home Team in Columbia.
"Most probably have not been there even 10 to 12 years," said Scott, the state senator. "These are brand new people coming in."
The average home price in the Blythewood area was $258,000 over the past 12 months, Smith said, a price similar to those paid to move to the Midlands other fast-growing town — Lexington.
"Open a subdivision, tomorrow it’s full," Larry Griffin said.
In response, Franklin, the Blythewood mayor, said his council is focusing on annexation to controlling zoning, and therefore, lot size. In hopes of preserving farm land on the north side of town stretching up to Fairfield County, he said they're promoting open space zoning the prevents any kind of homebuilding in favor of recreation space.
The town had looked to the one-cent sales tax passed by Richland County, but allegations of mismanagement and revenue shortfalls have put road-widening projects near Blythewood on hold. Franklin said they're hoping to make use of federal coronavirus relief money instead.
Scott said, the town, which has no property taxes, should look to some form of tax base to help fund recreation and plan out its footprint.
"That's so important because it's not going to stop growing," Scott said.