A Missed Opportunity
Editorial - Clinton residents and people charged every day with making the city a better place in which to live and work all bemoan the fact that young professionals and those in management positions here don’t live here.
Virtually none of the professors of the PC School of Pharmacy live in Laurens County. Many of the managers of what scant industry we have don’t live here.
Clinton City Council had a chance June 5 to painlessly – and at no cost to the city – do something to help lure mid-to-high income families here. They blew it, leaving the people in the audience, including most of the city’s department heads, stunned. And mumbling to themselves.
Rob and Jane Hicklin own 89 acres on Hwy. 72 between I-26 and Clinton High School. They asked the city to annex their property and then zone it for the development of mini-farms. The development already has a name – Shadow Farms. The idea is to have fewer than a dozen of these upper-mid-to high-range priced houses with the space for someone to have horses.
Council approved the requests for annexation and zoning unanimously both May 8 and June 5.
On May 8, council unanimously agreed to rezone 39 acres of adjacent land owned by the city to bring it in line with the A-R zoning that would allow for Shadow Farms on the Hicklin property.
There is no definite buyer for the city’s property, but virtually all of the other nearby property is zoned A-R.
The Clinton Planning Commission had reviewed both requests -- from the Hicklins and from the city – and voted unanimously to recommend that council approve them.
Council voted 3-3 to rezone the city’s 39 acres, meaning the motion failed. Mayor Bob McLean and new council members Robbie Neal and Ronnie Roth voted no. Council members Gary Kuykendall, Jimmy Young and Danny Cook voted yes. Council member Shirley Jenkins was in the hospital.
The trio against the re-zoning seemed to think if the property is re-zoned A-R, the city will not be able to sell it for as much as it would if it is zoned for commercial or industrial development. As far as anyone knows, the property is currently un-zoned.
There is no one beating down the doors of city hall wanting to build the ubiquitous “Cracker Barrel” (which everyone uses as an example of commercial development) on the property.
The city’s 39 acres is the same property the city sold to Dunkin’ Donuts to build a manufacturing facility. That project fell through and the property reverted to the city.
Mayor McLean touted the sale to Dunkin’ Donuts 10 YEARS AGO as a successful development project. And yet, the land is still just grass and weeds.
Jerre Threatt, director of community development, said the location is not suited for industry and, if an industry wants to build here, the city has hundreds and hundreds of other, better properties.
During his explanation and plea to council, Threatt was abruptly cut off by the mayor. “Thank you, we’re ready to vote.”
City council budgets money to pay professionals who work every day to bring jobs here. The Clinton Economic Development Corporation has worked for the last 15 years to develop commercial, retail and industrial property to bring jobs here. There have been successes; and many more near misses.
We now have more available property – with hundreds of more acres sitting ready at the tail-end of Whitten Center – than we will every need.
The discussions have never been about how can we maximize the sell price when a business or industry wants the property. The discussion is always about jobs and investment amounts.
Many economic developers offer land at no cost to bring jobs to their residents.
If the city’s 39 acres ever sells, we bet the price will be the same whether the purchaser is Cracker Barrel or Shadow Farms.
The only bright spot is this issue can be revisited by council at any time and the process to change the zoning is fairly easy.
Or, at least it should be.