PickleGarden owner, Congaree Riverkeeper respond to pushback on Saluda River development

Posted 1/9/24

The recent announcement of a new business headed for the shores of the Saluda River was met with a swell of pushback.

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PickleGarden owner, Congaree Riverkeeper respond to pushback on Saluda River development


The recent announcement of a new business headed for the shores of the Saluda River was met with a swell of pushback.

PickleGarden on the River is set to take over 4.75 acres at 680 Candi Ln. in Columbia near the Saluda Riverwalk and the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, bringing “12 spacious pickleball courts, 10,000 square feet of turf and biergarten space, 2,240 square feet of mixed-use space to be utilized as a members lounge or event space, a 3,600-square-foot, climate-controlled indoor/outdoor space overlooking the venue and access to the Riverwalk on the Lower Saluda River,” per a release from Colliers South Carolina, which brokered the sale of the land to Pickleball Land Holdings LLC.

The hope is to complete the new development by the end of the year.

Pushback against the project was swift and keyed on potential environmental impacts to the river from such a large development along its shores, a desire to preserve natural areas in Columbia, and fears that activity at the new sport-and-alcohol business could disrupt the peaceful recreation currently available along the Saluda Riverwalk.

Since the project’s Jan. 4 announcement, a plethora of social media posts have decried the project, and three separate petitions have been created on the site change.org seeking to halt the development of PickleGarden, including one that has accrued more than 4,000 signatures.

Jordan Owens, the Columbia resident who started the change.org petition that has gotten the most voluminous response, says he goes to the riverwalk at Candi Lane every chance he gets, frequently taking his dog there when the season is right.

He bemoaned the possibility of Columbia losing natural areas along the river, which he said are key to its identity. Owens likened the rivers that run through the city, where the Broad and Saluda Rivers meet to form the Congaree, to quality-of-life-boosting natural assets in other Palmetto State cities, such as the mountains near Greenville and the harbor in Charleston.

And like many, he is bothered by the size of the project and the impacts it could have on the environment, as well as residents’ ability to enjoy the river.

“A construction that large, even if it's done implicitly well, there's always going to be some sort of effect on the ecosystem,” he said. “And naturally, the bigger the project, the more motorized vehicles they’ll have to bring in, it all trickles down and affects the wildlife.”

Bill Stangler is the Congaree Riverkeeper, leading the local nonprofit that advocates on behalf of the area’s rivers. He told the Chronicle he’s had a look at the plans for the project and visited the site, and while there are concerns with such a large endeavor near the river, it appears the PickleGarden team intends to do things the right way, not just meeting local requirements but exceeding them.

“I've struggled to get people to pay attention to what I think are important issues. But then, occasionally, I'm surprised and something else catches people's people's eyes and gets them fired up,” he said. “And I think we're all better for it, because that means people start paying attention and listening. At the same time, I don't know that this is the biggest issue facing our rivers right now, but it is certainly one that has drawn people's attention, and I certainly always welcome folks getting fired up about our rivers.”

Stangler said concerns with the project include the business operating in the floodplain, but a required 50-foot buffer should take care of that. Stormwater issues, especially around construction, are also a concern, but those, too, are governed by local requirements.

“We'd like to see the developer go a little beyond the minimums that are required. So you know, beyond the 50-foot buffer, be more protective of that floodplain area and certainly do innovative stormwater control,” he said. “So we'd love to see some green infrastructure, low impact development, kind of stormwater controls on the site as well.”

Abbott “Tre” Bray, one of the partners in PickleGarden and a sitting member of the Lexington County School District 2 Board of Trustees, told the Chronicle they very much intend to go beyond what’s required as far as environmental impact.

“Are we going to be able to do everything extremely 100% sustainable? No, because it costs a whole lot of money,” he said. “But at the same time, we want to be an example to other businesses and development as it goes forward of, ‘Hey, this is how you put these items on windows so you don't have bird strikes. This is how you can use a previous parking area where we're not having runoff ... Here's how you can plant with native plants that actually give back to the ecology versus another stinking crepe myrtle or Bradford pear.”

He expressed frustration that PickleGarden didn’t get out in front of the PR issues it’s seeing, saying the initial renderings shared by Colliers make it seem as though the new development will be huge, intrusive and right on the river when that’s not the case. Bray claimed that it will sit back behind the riverwalk and won’t disturb its route or the experiences people currently enjoy along the river and the pathway alongside it.

He also mentioned misconceptions that park land was sold to make way for the project, which isn’t the case.

Bray said his team is trying to meet anyone who wants to see what they’re doing at the site to have a guided look.

“I think, in the end, a year from now, a year and a half from now, there’s gonna be many people who initially weren’t overly happy about it, but hopefully you’re gonna be sitting there hanging out with some friends and watching people gain joy for our environment and the river,” he posited. “That’s our goal.”

picklegarden on the river, lexington county attraction, saluda river walk, columbia rivers, tre bray


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