COLUMBIA — With hundreds of upset homeowners overflowing the capacity of its meeting room, Richland County Council urged the two sides disputing the future of a closed golf course to find an arrangement they could live with to resolve the battle.

The council on Tuesday night voted 7-3 to proceed with a zoning change sought by the owner of the closed Golf Course of South Carolina at Crickentree, Texas-based company E-Capital.

Several members who voted in the majority, however, said they wanted a different proposal to consider before the council next takes up the issue at a future meeting. 

"There are always options," said Dahli Myers, vice chairwoman of the council. "We need to come to a reasonable conclusion together."

Opponents lined up to implore the county to reject the company's plan and leave the space green.

"You're the only thing standing between us and wealthy, out-of-state speculators," Angela Koska told the council.

E-Capital is pushing ahead with a scaled-down plan to build about 200 houses on the about 185-acre site, which closed as a golf course last year. The company's attorney, Robert Fuller, has maintained that the county would be blocking any profitable use of the land if it allows zoning to block the housing project.

The development's scale and other features have been a topic of discussion for months, long before a first zoning proposal was put forward, Fuller said. There's still time for that discussion to continue, Fuller said.

Similar conflicts have been coming before local governments around South Carolina and the country as companies that own courses often look to raise more revenue through redevelopment.

Neighbors who are protesting say they thought they paid for and secured the view and the privacy as part of buying their homes. The added homes also could make issues such as crowded roads and schools worse, residents said.

Fuller has emphasized E-Capital's latest proposal includes a 150-foot buffer zone between current residents and new construction. Neighbors said that a simple zoning change would not require the company to keep any of its promises on the number of houses or other restrictions.

Council's debate comes after the county planning commission overwhelmingly recommended disapproval of the request. More than a decade ago, Richland County put many golf courses with adjacent homes in a special, restrictive zoning category called Traditional Recreational Open Space.

The zoning, which passed after an Irmo golf course closed, emphasizes protecting the natural aspects of the area and doesn’t allow housing construction. 

Other uses for the land have included the possibility of a park operated by Blythewood, which would first require annexation into the town. Neighborhood organizer Michael Koska has said he inquired about a sale of the land to have it be left as open space.

Council member Joyce Dickerson, who represents the Northeast Richland area, said local governments are seeking to address crowding issues, but these concerns were not sufficient reason to block the landowner from constructing the project.

The closed golf course land, now unmaintained and weedy, will not be allowed to become a jungle, Myers said, so residents need to understand that some change is coming.

Council chairman Paul Livingston warned residents that the current zoning would allow the land to be put to some uses they might not approve of, such as a privately run baseball park or other sports facility.

The number of rounds of golf being played in South Carolina has been increasing in recent years even as numerous courses have closed. Golf course owners say they are being squeezed by higher costs when they seek to borrow money and, in places such as Horry County, by higher property taxes.

In communities without a special zoning category for golf courses developers often can begin building houses without a change or hearing.

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Mike Fitts is a veteran South Carolina journalist who covers business from Columbia.

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