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Mayor: City has allowed exception to setback rule

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Greenville has previously granted exception to a city ordinance requiring a 50-foot buffer between any development and the Reedy River.

The ordinance, Section 19-7.7.4 A (1) (b), states the city will enforce a minimum 50-foot buffer from any channel of water with a watershed more than one square mile. The ordinance has been cited by different environmental groups looking to curtail the construction of a building at the Camperdown development at Falls Park.

According to Greenville Mayor Knox White, Greenville’s city engineer Duane Cooper “said it could be proper” to grant the exception, but added that things should be looked at on a case-by-case basis.“My position, and I have expressed this, is that there is flexibility but you have to look at the special circumstances and all of those are gone with this project,” White said in an interview with GSA Business Report. “I mean, this is Falls Park we’re talking about.”

“I think, in all these kinds of cases, you need some flexibility, but you should start with the rule and the developer should talk about why the flexibility is needed.”

Cooper confirmed that the city has used a buffer average as set forth in the ordinance. He said the city has applied the buffer average rule to developments such as RiverPlace and District West — both sit along the Reedy River. In those cases, part of the development may come inside the 50-foot buffer zone, but other parts are outside the zone. Under the rule, the average of those lengths must be at least 50 feet. In any case, using the buffer average has to be approved by the city, according to the ordinance.

Frank Holleman, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the rule should have prevented the concept of the 9,000-square-foot building facing the Reedy River on one side and Japanese Dogwood Lane on the other from even being considered.

“This is a city law and when someone went into someone’s office to ask about building this, the answer should have been ‘no’ and that should have stopped it,” Holleman said.

Holleman sent a letter to John Castile, Greenville city manager, and Michael Pitts, Greenville city attorney, on Nov. 11 on behalf of the Carolina Foothills Garden Club, concern over the specific building and the removal of trees along the banks of the river. He cited the specific ordinance as reason for concern.

A second letter, dated Nov. 29, addressed a proposal to erect pillars outside the 50-foot buffer zone and “constructing them on a building that extends over and into the 50-foot buffer.” Holleman called the plan “a mockery” of the ordinance and that the “overhang proposal” was a “conspicuous and cruel joke” on city officials and residents.

Now, the city is in negotiations with the developer and property owner — CAP Camperdown LLC, a subsidiary of Greenville-based Centennial American Properties — to purchase the tract of land and halt the building’s construction.

“We had talked to them about acquiring some of the green space around the area and about the infrastructure,” White said. “We have always thought they should look at a different site and there has not been a lot of pushback.”

He said the negotiations are ongoing and that “it is certainly not a done deal.”

George Fletcher, Greenville councilman, said that one option for the building in question was to move it to the side of the Bowater parking garage instead of its current placement at the end of it, “but I don’t know if that is feasible or not.”

White added that the city was pleased with Centennial American for looking at developing at the Bowater, but a city council meeting at the location in November caused the city to take a pause.

“Some members of council had only seen the plans and not the site,” White said. “Everyone on council saw it and it just was not natural.”

He said “it’s more likely than not there will be a building on the site, but not that site because it is too much a part of Falls Park.”

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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