COLUMBIA - A businessman who sought permission from North Augusta zoning officials to sell fireworks at his Halloween store has prevailed in the South Carolina Court of Appeals.
The three-judge panel reversed a Circuit Court's decision that had backed up the city's earlier denial of Rodney Wyndham's request for a special exception to sell fireworks.
"We're happy and excited," he said Sept. 5. "Right now, we're in the middle of Halloween season and we're open for business."
Wyndham had told officials he planned to operate the Halloween Express store for about 12 weeks out of the year and a fireworks retail store from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
During a zoning board hearing in November 2009, however, residents pushed back.
Fourteen community members testified that the fireworks sales would increase traffic and diminish their property values. Residents also feared that having several area fireworks retailers would hurt the community's image.
The North Augusta Board of Zoning Appeals heeded the residents and unanimously voted to deny the businessman's request.
Wyndham appealed to Aiken County Circuit Court, but that court affirmed the zoning board's decision. In a decision posted Sept. 5, the state Court of Appeals reversed the Circuit Court and criticized the local officials' actions.
"We find the (zoning board's) decision to give deference to residential neighborhoods outside the commercial zoning district in which the business would be located was arbitrary and capricious," the decision stated.
What's more, the court said the zoning board's decision "was not supported by competent, substantial, and material evidence, and was based on opinion and speculation testimony."
Residents also failed to make a solid case against Wyndham's plans, the court said.
"No competent testimony was presented differentiating the effect of a fireworks store on property values from the effect of a fast food restaurant or convenience store," read the decision, which cited minutes and a transcript of the zoning board hearing. "Both of these types of business would be entitled to open in the same commercial location as a matter of right."
As for residents' traffic concerns, the court said the city's own traffic consultant had said the proposed fireworks sales would not create a significant volume of traffic. The store is at 975 Old Plantation Road.
On Sept. 5, Wyndham said he had tried to satisfy neighborhood concerns at the beginning of the process. He said he agreed to a $3,000 bond, which the city could use to pay for landscaping on the site, in the event he failed to maintain the lawn. If traffic ever became too heavy, he said, he would hire an off-duty police officer to manage traffic.
City Administrator Todd Glover said officials are reviewing the court's decision.
"City council will not be making any decisions on any possible further action until it confers with its legal team," he said.