Living Here Guide

York County works to handle popularity

History has it that Jefferson Davis and the Confederate cabinet spent three days in Fort Mill before resuming their chaotic dash south at the close of the Civil War.

Now, nobody leaves.

Exaggeration? Hardly. Over the last 15 years, York County, S.C., has become one of the most popular – if not the most popular – suburban addresses in Charlotte.

Twenty minutes south of uptown, the county offers lakes and greenways, good schools and golf courses, lower taxes, rising home prices and the idyllic promise of small-town life – a checklist of amenities that continues to draw newcomers from around the country.

Which means that parts of the county, particularly in and around Fort Mill, have been hit by explosive growth. This former mill town believes it has a plan. In the next five years, we’ll see if it works.

S.C. 160, which connects Fort Mill and Tega Cay to Steele Creek to the west and Indian Land to the east, already borders on being overrun by traffic. Still to come: 1,000 new homes and up to 3,000 new jobs in the new Kingsley Park just east of Interstate 77 near Fort Mill High.

All that prospective growth looms just across the interstate from 1,400-home Baxter Village. This massive, mixed-used community ushered in the Springs family’s village-based plan to develop their hometown without suffocating it under sprawl.

Some of the ticky-tack has come anyway, and all those new families and jobs lining up to get here will be amberizing traffic for years to come.

After the recessionary slowdown, homebuilding is booming again south of the state line. In Springfield, acres of forest have been cleared to make room for the next phase of some of the most expensive landlocked homes in the state.

Across the river in Rock Hill, where the recession raked through like a glacier, the city and developers have joined hands to produce Riverwalk, a distinctive mixed-used development where bald eagles may one day perch above business lofts and micro-breweries. Some of Charlotte’s best-known builders already are on the site, bringing neighborhoods and first businesses to life.

Better still, a river runs through all of it. On weekends, residents and visitors launch boats on the free-flowing Catawba or take in the water and wildlife on Riverwalk’s 2.5-mile, riverbank greenway. By next fall, the view could include an adult beverage. Construction of The Grape Vine, a popular wine and beer bar from nearby Baxter, is already underway.

Which all sounds swell. Except ...

Fort Mill officials, for example, expect the town’s population of 11,000 to triple in the next two decades. And that raises questions of whether the quality of life that brings so many people here can survive their arrival.

The Fort Mill schools, traditionally among the best in the Charlotte region, face the neverending struggle of maintaining quality while rushing to provide all the new classrooms they need.

Fort Mill residents take great pride in their schools. Up to now, they’ve been willing to shoulder regular tax increases to keep the district among the area’s best.

But as the community changes like never before, will the newcomers be similarly inclined? Or will they begin to push back when the promised lower tax rates prove somewhat ephemeral?

For now, the living is good here. The future, though, offers some complications amid all that promise.