GEORGETOWN — Despite weeks of community outcry, Georgetown County Council gave a crucial approval to rezone a plot of land for a proposed affordable housing development by Wedgefield Plantation.
The approval passed 4-2, with one councilmember abstaining from the vote.
But the controversy is far from over — the rezoning of the land to allow for multifamily housing was approved, but the building of the development itself will have to go back through planning commission and county council and be approved separately.
For weeks, Wedgefield residents have fought with planning commission and council over the rezoning. Residents say building affordable housing outside its gates would cause a medley of problems, including a dip in property values and increased traffic flow.
A lack of specificity, though, is the main point of contention for residents of Wedgefield. Resident Bonnie Myers said she felt like the rezoning and development was moving too quickly with too little detail.
"We feel like we have been rushed into something... that will impact this community for years to come," Myers said.
Georgetown Memorial Hospital originally bought the 64 acres off Wedgefield Road and North Fraser Street in 2008 to build a medical facility, but the project fell through. Now, the hospital is looking to sell 16 acres of it to Foursix Housing and Blue Line development for an affordable housing complex.
A recent study conducted for the county expressed the immediate need for affordable housing such as Foursix and Blue Line's proposed development. Based on the most recent census data, the average household income in Georgetown was just above $48,000 per year. This makes affordable rent in the county no more than $1,200 a month, or 30 percent of income.
The proposed apartments would be restricted to families with low income — a family of four, for example, could make no more than $38,700 a year if they wanted to live there, based on median household income in the county.
Tony Cates with Foursix said rent at the 90 proposed units would be between $400 and $975, depending on the income of the residents and how many bedrooms were in a unit. The development would have units ranging from one to four bedrooms, but exact counts for how many units of each were not yet available.
Because council approved the rezoning, more conceptual, engineering and site planning information will be available in a few months.
Cates said the developers can now submit the plan to S.C. Housing Authority by May 28, and SCHA will likely respond by July or August. Then the developers will go through the same process of planning commission and county council, only this time for the project itself rather than just the zoning.
At county council May 11, most of the 23 people who spoke for more than an hour were Wedgefield residents in opposition of the rezoning. Myers said residents who oppose it have been called racist, and several residents at the meeting said their lack of support for the development was not about race.
Jackie Williams, a Black resident of Georgetown, though, disagreed.
"One lady said that this is not about race, she is absolutely correct. This is not just about race, this is about race and classism at its best," Williams said.
Her comments were met with shouts and interruptions from others in the crowd, including one resident who said "White people are poor, too."
Councilman Bob Anderson voted against the approval because of tax issues.
"What I have a problem with is the state and federal government using social engineering to tell me how to use your tax dollars and my tax dollars and doing what they want us to build where they want us to build it," Anderson said.
The abstaining vote, Councilman Everett Carolina, said there are other areas besides this that the county needs to consider for an affordable housing development.
Other plots in the county, though, have not been considered and will not be considered, Cates said, because they would be unlikely to qualify for state housing funding.
Cates said Foursix and BlueLine were interested in the spot outside Wedgefield because it fit into a census tract that the state housing authority identified as the areas in greatest need of affordable housing.
Councilman and Chairman Louis Morant represents the district Wedgefield resides in, and voted for the approval. Morant told council and its attendees that while he listened to their concerns, the only thing up for a vote May 11 was a simple rezoning of a plot of land, and not yet an actual development.
"Most of the items related to this matter touch upon why this should not occur, I keep looking for comments that say it can occur," Morant said. "I never remember American being a place of 'can't.' I don't think Georgetown County is a place of 'can't.'"
Final approval of the rezoning will happen at the next county council meeting May 25.