Residents of the Old Washington Road area north of Thomson packed the McDuffie County Courthouse May 3 to complain about a proposed apartment complex aimed at low-to-moderate-income residents.
County commission members voted against allowing the developers, Beneficial Communities, the variances they needed to proceed with the project. The 3-1 vote essentially killed the project because the deadline for the developers to have paperwork filed with the Department of Community Affairs was last Thursday.
Bob Colvard with Beneficial Communities had asked commissioners to allow 23 apartment units and 42 town house units - a total of 65 units - on the six acre site behind Circle K, and Weathervane Antiques. County ordinances call for a maximum of 48 units.
County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton said the debate about affordable housing in McDuffie County - in the form of mobile homes versus apartments - will continue despite the outcome of this recent project. He said in spite of his reservations, he couldn't think of a better location for the development.
"It was mentioned that we need affordable housing, and we do," he said. "Old Washington Road and places contiguous to the city limits are going to continue to grow."
Mr. Colvard said a $6,000 market study of the area pointed to a need for the particular kind of housing his company provided.
"If you are going to have new jobs, you've got to have places for people at those jobs to live," he told commissioners.
Several residents in the area complained of increased traffic, noise, a decline in property value and drug problems after another nearby complex went up. They each got a chance to address the commission at the meeting.
"After the housing came, things have definitely changed," said Mary Belton, who has lived in the area for 25 years. "The children are not as safe as they should be."
Proponents of the development also got to share their feelings with commissioners. Sandra Godwin, the local Realtor who was working with Beneficial Communities spoke in favor of the complex.
"I am not going to live amongst my friends and neighbors in McDuffie County and bring in some trash," she said.
Prior to the vote, Commissioner Fred Favors stated that congested apartment complex areas exploit the pain of the poor. He said low-income families should be able to purchase standalone, single family homes instead.
McDuffie County Planning and Zoning Director Fred Guerrant informed commissioners that he had called other communities where this company had located developments and they all had given him positive feedback.
Commissioners Sammie Wilson, Bob Farr and Favors voted against the development, leaving Darrell Wester the lone supporter. Chairman Newton only votes in the instance of a tie.