York County is moving to freeze new housing development in some of the county’s fastest growing communities.
An ordinance under consideration by the York County Council would stop the county from issuing new housing plats for any property within “the Fort Mill or Bethel townships.”
The ordinance would affect property owners in the Lake Wylie area and in the area between the Catawba River and the North Carolina line. It would halt any new construction of either multi-family or single-family homes until the county has completed a study of how public facilities and roads would be affected by new residents.
The proposal was unveiled at Monday’s meeting of the county council, although a county ordinance outlining the details isn’t expected to be ready for the council to vote on until the April 4 meeting.
A freeze would be temporary, but Councilman Michael Johnson of Fort Mill, who proposed the measure, couldn’t say how long it would be in effect.
“I want to create a plan that would have an automatic trigger (to stop a new development from going in),” Johnson told the Herald. “If we have an adequate public facilities ordinance, it would say ‘you’re not allowed to build unless these criteria are met.”
The areas affected have seen some of the fastest growth of new residential construction in recent years, causing concerns from existing residents that the areas were being overdeveloped, especially in terms of additional traffic.
The Fort Mill school district has seen student enrollment double in the past decade, going from 6,185 students at the end of the 2004-05 school year to a present-day total of 13,217. Voters in the district last year approved a $226 million bond referendum to pay for the construction of a new high school and middle school in the area.
School district superintendent Chuck Epps said he would “welcome” a freeze, arguing that surging growth is not only putting a strain on existing schools but competition from developers could crowd out space for the new school campuses Fort Mill will soon need.
“We could use this period to bank some future school sites at affordable prices,” he said. “A school district does not have deep pockets, so we can’t outbid developers.”
John K. DeLoache, staff attorney for the S.C. Association of Counties, expects to hear of more proposals like this floated around the state.
“Last time there was a wave of similar actions in 2008 in the Lowcountry,” DeLoache said. “It became less of an issue when development (and) housing sales came to a halt.”
An adequate public facilities ordinance, which York County had discussed previously and will need to pass in order to restart development, is needed to make sure the area can keep up with growth, DeLoache said.
“Breakneck development causes more problems . . . traffic, is there adequate water and sewer?” he said. “With the growth in the York County, Lancaster, Fort Mill areas I can see why they want to explore it.”
Real estate agents and developers contacted for this story declined to comment until they knew more details of the proposal. The York County Regional Chamber of Commerce likewise declined to take a position on the issue yet. Chamber President Rob Youngblood said the board will likely review the issue at its next meeting.
“We want to make sure residents have their services provided, but we don’t want to be seen as an exclusive community,” Youngblood said.
Local residents respond
“As a Fort Mill resident and as someone who is very concerned about the schools, I wonder why they didn’t do it earlier,” said Marion Davenport, owner of Chirp ’n Chatter & More in Crossroads Plaza.
S.C. 160 West in front of her store is often cited as a high-traffic area. With new homes under construction in most directions already, Davenport doesn’t know what difference a moratorium might make. She lives in Regent Park, where the long-time golf course is being converted to new homes and apartments. That project, like others, is too far along for a freeze to stop or delay it.
Up the road at the intersection of S.C. 160 and Gold Hill Road, Brad Yanda of Village ABC hopes putting a temporary brake on new home construction could help ease the daily traffic jams he sees in front of his shop.
“At least until there’s increase in the infrastructure, meaning roads, because right now the roads can’t accommodate as much housing as is coming into the area,” he said.
The proposed ordinance would only apply to unincorporated areas of the county, excluding properties inside city or town limits.
“If it’s going to have any teeth, it needs to apply to the municipalities as well,” Epps said. “What’s already been approved is enough to challenge us for the next five to 10 years.”
Similar proposals have been floated elsewhere. Neighboring Lancaster County last year approved a nine-month moratorium on rezonings in Indian Land, which has seen similar growth pressure in recent years. Rock Hill recently completed a year-long moratorium on new apartment construction, which led to a slew of rezonings to limit where multifamily housing could be built in the city.
But York County has backed away from moratoriums or limitations of its own in the past. Plans to limit development in Lake Wylie were proposed in 2014, but after taking different forms, were ultimately delayed over fears of legal challenges.
“I’ll leave the legal challenges up to (York County attorney) Michael Kendree,” Johnson said. “He knows what we can and can’t do. But we’ve tried to do this on a case-by-case basis and it hasn’t worked.
York County is currently in the process of drawing up a new, 10-year comprehensive plan to address growth issues in the county and adjust county’s zoning and planning ordinances for future growth.
A final version of the plan will be presented to the public at an open house on Thursday, Feb. 25, at Banks Trail Middle School in Fort Mill from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
John Marks and Don Worthington contributed