York County is laying the groundwork for the latest attempt to address concerns about development around Lake Wylie – and the newest proposal could affect a larger area than ever before.
On Monday, the York County Planning Commission reviewed a replacement for previous “overlay” proposals that would cover not only the shores of Lake Wylie and its surrounding coves, but also a larger “watershed” district that feeds into the lake and its tributaries.
The new proposal could affect new development in an area that stretches from Tega Cay on the east side of the lake around to the western shore and then out to Highway 161.
“This is not the easiest or simplest change you can make,” said Planning Director Audra Miller, who noted planners don’t yet have concrete restrictions that would apply in the watershed overlay, which would have to be approved by the York County Council.
The council last year considered approving a restrictive overlay district covering only the peninsula of the Lake Wylie community, something residents had called for to slow development in the fast-growing residential area. But the council later postponed any action in favor of a more comprehensive proposal, and county planners later included a larger lake-specific buffer area in changes to the county zoning ordinance.
However, planners later dropped that idea in favor of a proposal focused less on restricting development and more on protecting water quality, which Miller presented to the Planning Commission on Monday.
The latest proposal is similar to rules enforced by Gaston and Mecklenburg counties in North Carolina to cover waterways feeding into Lake Wylie and the Catawba River. It would seek to limit pollutant runoff into the county’s main body of water by putting restrictions on septic tanks and limit the amount of paved areas, such as parking lots and driveways in developments that prevent the ground from absorbing rainwater and instead washes materials into the lake.
“We will be a leader in the state in implementing this,” Miller said. “These standards would be seen as proactive as compared to being reactive.”
The proposal could have downsides. Miller noted limiting paved surfaces could lead developers to build more densely, which other zoning changes have tried to limit.
The Planning Commission didn’t take any action on the proposal Monday, although Commissioner Bill Hopper worried about how limiting runoff could affect farming in the area.
“The cows would have to wear bags,” Hopper said, prompting chuckles from other commissioners.
Miller said the next step would be to set up a technical committee – whose members would include civil engineers and scientists, property owners and environmental activists – to make recommended ordinance changes. It could take six months to a year for planners to develop an overlay ordinance.
Elsewhere on the agenda, the Planning Commission gave its narrow approval to revised zoning standards from which the Lake Wylie overlay was split. The changes include a shift from “net density” – a tighter standard that would require developers to set aside up to 40 percent of a property for open space and infrastructure – to a looser “gross density” standard.
The York County Council, which still would have to approve the new standards, had expressed a preference for a gross density measure.
Commissioner Bill Hargrove, who voted against the new zoning standards, worried they would create a “flood” of rezoning requests in the county, leading to sprawl and increased traffic.
“This will overload our agenda with rezoning hearings, both ours and the (County) Council’s,” he said. “But that’s at the council’s discretion.”
The commission ultimately approved the new standards by a 4-3 vote, with Commissioners Larry Barnette, James Darby, Haines Maxwell and Carmen Miller voting in favor, and Hargrove, Hopper and Tommy Robbins opposed.