GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Supporters of Habitat for Humanity gathered today to rally support for a new ReStore that is being blocked by a recent zoning change by the Mauldin City Council.
A Habitat Restore uses the sales of donated items to help Habitat for Humanity partner with local families to build, rehabilitate and repair safe and affordable homes. Greenville County already has two of these stores – one on Wade Hampton Boulevard and another on Woodruff Road – that have been highly successful. Monroe Free, President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County, said the award-winning non-profit began looking at Mauldin to further serve the people of the Golden Strip.
“I can understand the City of Mauldin looking to its future, but they are unfairly penalizing good hard-working people,” Free said.
Because of its success in turning other shuttered big-box spaces into prosperous ReStores, Habitat’s leadership decided to pursue a site at 207 West Butler Road, which was a former Bi-Lo Supermarket that has been vacant since April, said Mark Steenback, Habitat’s vice president of Resource Development.
Kevin Conway, Senior Leasing Associate for Wheeler Real Estate, which owns the property in question, said he approached more than 100 retailers for the space including all grocery chains, but has found no serious interest from retailers. That changed when Habitat for Humanity became interested.
However, Conway said he was contacted in July by Van Broad, the City of Mauldin's Community Development Director. Broad told Conway he had learned that Habitat was interested in putting a ReStore on the property. He then told Conway that the City was going to prevent Habitat from going into the site and would not approve any permits.
On July 19, City Council approved a Resolution asking the Mauldin Planning Commission to “conduct a review at a public hearing to consider amending the Mauldin Zoning Ordinance to limit the number of thrift stores that may locate in Zoning Districts C1, C2, CRD, and S1.” Habitat for Humanity applied for a business license with the City of Mauldin on August 4th and the business license was denied pending the results of the Planning Commission review and the public hearing.
On August 24, the Mauldin Planning Commission amended the ordinance as submitted to them from the Business Development Department striking the provisions in the ordinance that would prevent Habitat from leasing the abandoned Bi-Lo by unanimous consent. The Building Codes Committee passed the ordinance as approved by the Planning Commission to full Council for their input with no vote taken on September 7. City Council, on First Reading on September 20, amended the ordinance adding back in the two provisions that would prohibit Habitat from leasing the property by a 4-3 vote with Mayor Merritt, Taft Matney, Diane Kuzniar, and Jason Kraeling voting to approve as amended and Dale Black, Carol King and Michael Reynolds voting to support Habitat. There was no vote taken on the ordinance as submitted and unanimously approved by the Mauldin Planning Commission.
“City Council members have told us the ordinance is not about Habitat, but the fact is this amendment to the city zoning laws didn’t come until well after we had started the process of putting a ReStore on the site,” Free said.
Councilwoman King said Tuesday that putting a Restore at Butler Square has many benefits because it serves a community need, brings life to a large vacant storefront and supports a nonprofit that helps create affordable housing.
Habitat Restores are not typical thrift shops. ReStores accept donations and sell a constantly changing inventory of diverse, high-quality merchandise to the public at a fraction of the retail price, while diverting reusable household items and building materials from area landfills.
“As Mauldin grows, we need to be working with community partners such as Habitat, not against them,” she said.
Free thanked the members who voted against the zoning change, and said Habitat for Humanity is raising awareness of what happened because its leadership hopes the other four will vote differently at the next meeting on October 18.
“We want to work with them and pray that Council members rethink their decision to zone us out of existence,” Free said.