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The city of Simpsonville called a special meeting Tuesday to annex 130 acres south of I-64 Tuesday. The rush was to beat another city to the punch even though that city does not yet exist.
At the hastily-called meeting, the commission took first reading on an ordinance that would annex 130.46 acres of land owned by AKDB, LLC, which is a company led by John (Papa John) Schnatter. Schnatter, in a letter dated Feb. 29, 2008, requested the annexation. The land lies south of the interstate and west of Buckcreek Road. Just under half of the land is zoned interchange or commercial and the rest is zoned agricultural.
Without comment, commissioners approved the ordinance for a first reading in a meeting that lasted three minutes. About a dozen residents who live near the 130 acres attended the meeting, though public comments were not taken.
After the meeting, city officials, Mayor Steve Eden and City Administrator David Eaton said the city acted in haste to prevent a group of residents who live south of the interstate, from annexing the property into a city they are trying to form. Those residents had held a meeting in the city fire station March 9 to discuss incorporating a new city south of the interstate at exit 28.
"For all we knew they were ready to take the petitions to (circuit clerk) Kathy Nichols' office when she opened at 8:30 and that's why we had the meeting at 8:15," Eden said. "If they did, that may take precedence in the courts. At least this way we got the process started."
Eaton said the city had to act quickly because the organizers of the new city were acting in secret.
"Everything we do we have to do in public, but they haven't told anybody about this," Eaton said. "I bet when some of the neighbors learn about this, we will be getting more requests for annexation."
But Doug Butler, who is one of the organizers of a new city south of the interstate, denies a petition to create a new city was imminent and he denied the group has been secretive. He said residents were still gathering petitions to create a City of Veechdale and were a long way from asking the courts to grant an incorporation of sixth class city status.
"We've been meeting with all of the neighbors," Butler said. "I've passed out 70 flyers. Everybody out here knows what we're doing."
Butler, who attended Tuesday's meeting, said he does not have a quarrel with Schnatter or what he wants to do with the property.
"It's a free country and it's his land," Butler said. "Everything I know about him says that whatever he does it will be first class."
Schnatter also owns several hundred acres of land contiguous to that which may be annexed.
Aaron Thompson, controller for AKDB, LLC, said Schnatter has no immediate plans for the property.
"It's going to sit there as it has for the last eight to 10 years or whatever it has been since he owned it," Thompson said.
Thompson said Schnatter asked that the land be incorporated into Simpsonville to "keep our options open."
"We would rather be under their control rather than an unknown, newly-created city where we could have been included whether we wanted to or not," Thompson said.
Butler said residents south of the interstate are interested in creating a new city "to maintain the rural nature of the area and to have no annexation without representation."
Butler said the proposed City of Veechdale would run south of the interstate down Buckcreek Road to Taylor Wood Road. The city would follow the north side of Taylor Wood to Veechdale Road. It would encompass about 1,000 acres, Butler said.
If formed, a mayor/commission form of government would administer the city. Taxes would be low, Butler said, because the city's services would be limited to garbage pickup.
State law requires that a city must consist of at least 300 people. Two-thirds of registered voters would have to sign a petition before a court would consider incorporating a new city. Butler said he did not know yet how many signatures have been gathered because several volunteers were recruited to collect names.
Residents south of the interchange protested an annexation of about seven acres of land late last year by the city of Simpsonville. They feared the city would allow the landowner, Redline Properties, to build a heavy equipment dealership at the site. Triple S had turned down the company's request for the dealership in the summer of 2007. Residents feared the company would try to get the city to allow the dealership once it had control of the land.
But Eaton said the city has been meeting with Triple S Planning and Zoning Executive Director Ryan Libke to iron out interchange regulations that would limit what is acceptable at the interchange. Libke in the past has said the county needs more specific rules about what goes in at interchanges.
"There's not going to be truck stops over there or car dealerships, just what benefits the traveling public," Eaton said. "We can lead the city and county with what we're doing here."
Butler said the City of Veechdale would have no interest in keeping commercial development from land already zoned commercial or interchange.
"We're not going to devalue anybody's property," Butler said. "If you live in the commercial area around the interstate, what goes there is a planning and zoning decision. This is a grassroots effort - democracy at its finest - to allow people to have a voice in what goes on with their land and the land around them."