After an hour-long hearing, Orangeburg City Council decided Tuesday not to allow Walmart to build a grocery store on 7-1/2 acres on Columbia Road.

Councilwoman Liz Zimmerman Keitt asked the developers to “take a look at other places” that could be used for the investment, rather than a residential area.

With that, she offered a motion to uphold the city planning commission’s decision to deny a request to change the zoning on the parcel from A-2 multi-unit residential to B1 general business. Council unanimously approved it.

Development firm Cypress Equities announced in May that it planned to invest $20 million building two Walmart Neighborhood Market stores in the city. One would be on the Columbia Road site behind Palmetto Place Apartments, the other on a parcel zoned for business on Stonewall Jackson Boulevard.

Each store would be a $10 million investment with a workforce of approximately 100 employees.

Cypress spokesman Tim Brett, CEO of Complete Publications, said if council chose to deny the rezoning request, the city will be getting a multi-unit subsidized housing project on the Columbia Road site instead.

“The developer has a definitive agreement to acquire this property from a family trust. ... It’s their intention to build 52 state-subsidized, three-bedroom units there, which equals to about 156 bedrooms. The project will be income and rent-restrictive. ... If we don’t get rezone, if council decides not to change the zoning on this property, then the multi-unit housing project will be built instead,” Brett said at a previous City Council meeting.

He stood by his words Tuesday night.

Cheryl Nugent, who’s lived in Orangeburg for the past 10 years, said a Walmart Neighborhood Market would “do very well” in a vacant building such as the one left by the Piggly Wiggly on Russell Street.

Resident John Smith, who lives less than a half-mile from the Columbia Road site, said it’s possible for Walmart Neighborhood stores to invest in vacated buildings.

He read a list of locations and their former purposes that are now homes to Walmart Neighborhood Market stores in other locales.

“Obviously it’s possible,” he said.

“Why treat Orangeburg differently? Treat Orangeburg citizens with the same respect,” he said.

Michael Culler, too, said one of the many vacant buildings throughout the city ought to be taken into consideration.

Culler also said that even if the Neighborhood Market store is built on Columbia Road, “essentially it’s going to be vacant in five to 10 years.”

Bob Bates said he’s concerned about the safety of school children who frequently cross Columbia Road. Bates said the commercial addition there would mean an increase in truck traffic and noise in an area that is designated to remain residential.

A handful of individuals spoke in supported of the Columbia Road site rezoning.

The Rev. Hayes Gainey, pastor of Edisto Fork United Methodist Church, said several of his elderly parishioners “don’t drive to a lot of places.”

Gainey said the addition of a grocery store on Columbia Road would be beneficial to his older church members.

Linda Keith-Stroman said, “Three neighborhood grocery stores have closed in this city in the past month.”

She called the Columbia Road site and proposed Walmart Neighborhood Market the “perfect solution” to what city residents need.

The Rev. Caesar Richburg, pastor of Williams Chapel AME Church, said, “Our neighborhood has seen businesses come and seen businesses go.”

He said a Neighborhood Market on Columbia Road is “a good thing.”

Thomas Crowther, project manager of Cypress Equities, also addressed council and the public at the start of the hearing.

Crowther and Brett said the average wage of an employee at the Neighborhood Market would be more than $12 an hour.

Crowther showed architectural renderings of what the store would look like in a setting buffered by vegetation, saying the store would be “nested” by trees and forestry.

He also noted, “I was a college student once and I got to tell you, $12 an hour would’ve done me real good.”

“We’d like to partner with you over the next two years,” he said.

After the public hearing and once the council meeting was underway, Detria Dantzler and Kenneth Glover spoke to council about the city gymnasium.

They said the gym doesn’t have air-conditioning and the conditions are deplorable.

City Administrator John Yow said a new city gym would take about a year to complete and that contracts may be issued as early as late fall.

Yow said financing for a new city gym would come by way of the capital projects sales tax.

Crowther stood and said, “We do want to be your partner — and this isn’t about Walmart.”

“I grew up in a small community. ... If you guys are willing to work with us, we want to be a part of this community. We’d like to donate $20,000 and if you don’t, that’s fine,” Crowther said.

“This is not a bribe,” he said.

“It sure sounds like it,” loudly quipped a man in audience.

“Would you all be willing to donate that $20,000 if we partner with you or not?” a woman in the audience said so everyone could hear.

The audience murmured and Mayor Michael Butler called the meeting to come to an order.

Contact the writer: mbrown@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5545. Follow on Twitter: @MRBrownTandD.

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