Residents of North Charleston's Deer Park seem to live in a state of constant vigilance; not against crime, but against repeated efforts to convert residential properties near University Boulevard into businesses.

In the latest dispute, which North Charleston City Council will discuss April 17, developers want to rezone a residential lot on Shadow Lane for a medical office building. They argue, and some city officials agree, that nobody would build a home there because the property is surrounded by businesses and institutions.

For neighborhood residents who are trying to keep businesses from intruding, it's a zoning Catch-22. While residents don't want the edge of their neighborhood becoming more commercial, they face an argument that some properties should be rezoned for businesses because nobody wants to live there because they are next to businesses.

"I drove over there today, and there is no way anyone would build a house on that lot," Councilwoman Rhonda Jerome said at a public hearing Thursday.

Residents fear a domino effect, and have been pressing city officials to maintain a "demarcation line" meant to keep businesses out of the neighborhood. Prior requests to rezone the same property on Shadow Lane have been denied or withdrawn.

"You know our stance," neighborhood association president Beth Evans told council members at the hearing. "We don't want to ruin the integrity of our (comprehensive) plan by crossing the demarcation line."

Any zoning issue can involve lots of legal language and technical jargon, but in the end it comes down to what a property owner can do with their land, and how that could impact the neighbors.

In the Shadow Lane case, the residential lot is surrounded on three sides by church-owned property. Churches are allowed on residential property - the churches didn't need rezoning - but their presence has created the argument that the neighboring land is no longer suitable for a home site. Trident Medical Center owns the other land adjacent to the residential lot.

Developer Robert Pratt, of Parkway Associates, said he was unaware of the demarcation line, but said the office building would be "unobtrusive" if allowed.

Julia Towles' family has lived on property on a neighboring street, directly behind the Shadow Lane property, since 1957. She urged city officials to deny the zoning change.

She said her property is also surrounded by church and business property and "it's a good place to live."

The zoning issue on Shadow Drive is one of two involving some controversy that City Council will soon address. The other involves plans to create a business and industrial park on a 57-acre wooded property along Cross County Road that's been leased by Paintball Charleston since 2001.

At the public hearings Thursday, members of City Council appeared supportive of both zoning changes but expressed some concerns about language in the business park zoning plan that would exempt all pine and gum trees from city tree protection regulations.

"I'm going to be very hesitant to give a green light to just going in and clearing all the trees," said Councilman Dwight Stigler.

City Council spent the first three months of the year wrangling with Mayor Keith Summey over changes to the city's tree protection rules. The business park development plan would brush those new rules aside, Councilman Todd Olds said.

The zoning issues go next to a committee meeting at 5 p.m. April 17, where they will be discussed in more detail. City Council could vote on the zoning April 24.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552.