SUMMERVILLE — A growing number of residents are voicing concerns about a development company's plans to build a rental home community in an area that was zoned more than 40 years ago.
American Homes 4 Rent, a California-based and publicly held real estate investment company, submitted plans recently to Summerville Town Council to build 23 rental homes between Waring Street and Germantown Road.
If Town Council doesn't intervene, residents say the plan will violate the spirit of what the area was zoned for and tarnish the quality of life in the historic town.
The area is zoned as an R-2 single-family residential area, which allows for homes either owned or rented on a minimum lot size of 8,500 square feet.
"Summerville's zoning ordinances were adopted decades ago," residents Mark and Paula Carter wrote in a June 21 letter to Planning Director Jessi Shuler. "This proposed development would be a violation of the 'SPIRIT' of the ordinance."
In addition to the Carters' letter, nearly 300 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for any potential construction on the development to stop.
Since 2016, the Better Business Bureau has received over 750 complaints from customers about American Homes 4 Rent, mainly regarding long-reported tenant issues that remain unfixed.
American Homes 4 Rent did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Although the company owns other properties throughout South Carolina, some residents still feel that an outside entity can't understand the historic and small-town charm of a city like Summerville.
"The concept of real estate investing in rental homes by publicly traded companies on the New York Stock Exchange like American Homes 4 Rent was not conceived until 2012," the Carters' letter reads. "Clearly, the zoning ordinance of 4 decades ago could not have anticipated this type of development."
Regardless of how residents interpret the regulations, the town is prohibited from stopping any development as long as it meets the zoning requirements.
Shuler said all the town can do is examine the plans to ensure they meet basic subdivision requirements, and that the American Homes 4 Rent proposal appeared to do so. She said, rental properties don't violate the zoning regulation, as some residents are implying.
"There's plenty of single-family housing in divisions that are rented, that's nothing new. (American Homes 4 Rent) owns 300 properties in the Summerville area that are rented out as single-family homes," Shuler said. "The only requirement we have is that you have to rent it out for 30 days or more. ... We don't really get involved in who's going to ultimately own the homes."
The development will be hard-pressed to make much of a dent in the tri-county area's burgeoning affordable housing crisis. Affordable housing is defined as housing that doesn't cost more than 30 percent of a person's income, but a 2017 Post and Courier analysis revealed that many in the area can't afford to live where they work, which leads to exponential growth in neighboring cities and increased congestion on Charleston-area roadways.
The median yearly household income in Summerville is about $55,000, and American Homes 4 Rent properties in the area rent for anywhere from $1,350-$2,495 per month.
Shuler said it is not clear when potential construction on the development could begin, and plans submitted to the Town Council are only conceptual at this point in time.
This story has been updated to correct the name of the street where the development is planned. It is Waring Street.