What we think: Outlet mall critics deserve attention

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The two outlet mall plans for Simpsonville wil be approved, but we believe opponents have some valid points that sould get attention.

We as a community are down to the last Christmas seals of approval for the proposed outlet malls for Simpsonville.

Next Wednesday the Simpsonville City Commission will consider on second reading of an ordinance that signs off on zone changes and site plans submitted by Trio Property and Paragon Outlet Properties, which have partnered on the 64-acre parcel south of Interstate 64 and east of Buck Creek Road.

We have no questions about whether commissioners should approve those requests. Because they approved in September similar requests by Horizon Group Properties to build an outlet mall on a 55-acre site just west of Buck Creek Road, commissioners are honor bound to follow the same protocol and approve these plans. They perhaps would be legally vulnerable to do otherwise.

That is not to say, of course, that everyone else approves of these plans.

There are many opponents among property owners who live in the vicinity of these proposed malls. They have been consistent and vocal in their messages, and we understand. They fear for the quality of lives, their property values and share a very great dread of possibly gridlocked traffic between the interstate and their homes.

These residents have been well versed in these plans, have studied zoning regulations and plans, have attended informational meetings conducted by the developers and have pursued with great passion every public forum and informational avenue to state their complaints.

They protested plans for both malls before the Triple S Planning Commission and earned the support of their neighbor Larry Stewart, who has been the only person on either commission to voice any sort of concern or opposition about the plans. Mr. Stewart became a rallying point in these residents’ questions about whether these plans actually were in accordance with Shelby County’s comprehensive plan.

Mr. Stewart’s reasoning aside, members of Triple S otherwise were resolute and consistent in their findings that outlet malls were appropriate for incorporated acreage around Exit 28. Simpsonville officials frequently have mentioned how residents of that area were part of a committee that helped develop the land-use plans for those parcels.

None of this has dissuaded the public opposition, and unless those residents go to court – as one of them suggested at the last Simpsonville Commission meeting – we see no recourse to stop the planning and development of this land for both malls.

That said, we do share some of the concerns that these residents have raised, and we encourage officials to address these questions:

  • As former magistrate Bob Walters suggested – along with others – we see no reason why a very thorough reanalysis of the traffic study could not to be requested. Buck Creek Road was to be widened next year no matter – that plan was a boon, developers have said – but those malls would ever complicate the planning and development. We would prefer that the residents have more faith in the engineers’ analyses and a firmer belief that their lives won’t be disrupted worse than has been projected. An additional traffic study doesn’t have to stop the approval, but requesting further information can’t hurt the healing.
  • We share the concern that someday these well-meaning and hopeful plans may evolve into something less prideful than those being conceived. We don’t want Simpsonville to become, say, South Georgia, where abandoned outlet facilities sit empty of legal commerce and inviting of the illegal sort. We would like to hear one developer say that no earth will be turned without all contracts being signed, which happens elsewhere but has not been mentioned in these pitches.
  • Finally, we believe that the Simpsonville City Commission owes to its constituents a consideration and decision to be made by the full commission. Neither Commissioner Scott McDowell nor Commissioner Vicky Wise has attended a meeting when these plans were presented and the votes taken. They have had personal conflicts that have kept them away from the meetings, but we don’t believe the public is being served by three of five members of the commission taking full responsibility in approving for such a sensitive project. Few of the most affected residents can vote on this commission, but there should be good faith among all.

Regardless of those issues, we fully expect that as of Wednesday morning all plans will have been considered and approved. We believe that by the spring both of these partnerships will have moved earth and begun construction in a duel of what one resident has called “outlet mall chicken.”

We believe that licensing arrangements will be pursued and struck, and that in those agreements ultimately can be found the final approval for whether Simpsonville has by the projected completion date of 2014 two, one or even zero outlet malls.

As much as some residents wish it would be elected or appointed officials who would determine the futures of their neighborhoods, the marketing and the marketplace will be the ultimate arbiter.