ELLOREE – It was an agonizing decision, but in the end, Elloree Town Council voted 3-2 against a request to rezone the 10-acre site of a former garment manufacturing plant at 6081 Old Number Six Highway.
The 25,000-square-foot plant on the western edge of town has sat unused for decades, except for a period of time when a company used it as an auction site and warehouse.
At some point in history, it was rezoned residential. Now the property’s owners want to sell it and asked the town to rezone it for industrial use.
Scott and Chelsea Gouin told the town’s planning commission on Tuesday, May 28, that if the property was rezoned, they would buy it, hire up to 25 people and build high-end specialty bass boats there.’
The planning commission voted 3-0 to recommend the rezoning request. Two commissioners abstained, citing potential conflict of interest.
The recommendation went to the town council on Monday, June 10.
Town officials made clear that they saw benefits in putting a mothballed industrial site back into productive use, generating jobs in addition to tax revenues.
Also, it was clear that they heard concerns voiced by residents, both in person and by way of a petition, about the possible negative effects of the operation on the quality of life in Elloree.
The council voted to table the request and then sought more information from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Three of them visited an existing boat-manufacturing facility near Ridgeville and one visited a facility in Walterboro to see the process firsthand.
They brought their findings to a special called meeting of town council in Friday, June 28.
Councilman Chip Davis IV said he went to the Key West factory near Ridgeville.
“They took us through the whole factory and explained everything,” he said. “It was an eye-opening experience. It was very noisy and very smelly. The odors were so strong they could take your breath away.”
David acknowledged that the Key West factory produces far more boats than the Gouins intend to build. But he said both would use the same boat-building process, including the same chemicals, some of which he said are “known carcinogens.”
Davis added that the state can order factories to limit their dust emissions, but no technology exists to prevent odors from leaving the factory, and the Gouins’ factory would be much closer to residences than the Key West factory.
Davis said the jobs and tax revenues make the industry “a great opportunity for Elloree,” but not at the proposed site.
“It’s a densely populated area. There are legitimate concerns. There are a lot of unknowns. There are a lot of unanswered questions. I cannot approve something like this at that site.”
Councilwoman Sarah Ann F. Parler said the property in question is in her district. She made a motion to deny the rezoning request.
Councilman Bill Brandenburg seconded the motion, saying the factory’s “noise and odor” would be unacceptable to the neighbors and community.
“It is a shame because we are losing an opportunity” to gain a “wonderful business,” but “it needs a better location,” Brandenburg said.
Brandenburg, Davis and Parler voted against the rezoning request. Councilwoman Kim Gidron voted in favor of the request, as did Mayor Mike Fanning, although Fanning had concerns about another aspect of the decision.
Fanning reminded the council that once a parcel is rezoned, “there’s very little you can do” to ensure that property owners keep the verbal promises they made during their pitches for the rezoning – particularly after the property is sold to another party. Basically, an owner can do whatever is allowed under the zoning classification.
Fanning and the council members suggested that “neighborhood commercial” might be a more appropriate zoning designation for the property. It would make it easier for the owners to sell it and wide the potential uses of the property.
During the discussions, several people suggested that the Gouins build a new facility in the town’s industrial area or in a county industrial park. However, the company is just starting out and those options are just not financially feasible.
So the prospect of up to 25 new boat-building jobs is gone. However, the Food Lion distribution center in Elloree is now hiring, according to a recruiter who accepted job applications at a job fair in Holly Hill on June 25.