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York County Council defers decision on lake overlay amendment

Map by Ryan O'Shea

Map by Ryan O’Shea

Editor’s Note: Corrected to accurately reflect proposed development by Walton South Carolina LLC, and comments made by company representatives at the meeting.

The York County Council unanimously deferred a decision to amend its Lake Wylie Overlay ordinance for 30 days at Monday’s meeting, due to the overwhelming response it has received since introducing it Sept. 2.

Before that vote was taken, Councilman Joe Cox made a motion to deny the amendment. But after a lengthy discussion among all the council members, that motion failed 5-2.

Council member Bruce Henderson, whose district contains the overlay, wasn’t pleased with the council’s decision, but said deferring the amendment was better than denying it.

“By killing this, it’s going to take a while before somebody will pick up the ball and run with it again, and if government moves any slower, it’s going to go backward,” he said prior to the decision.

Councilman Michael Johnson echoed Henderson’s statements.

“If we stop tonight, what we’ve done is we’ve spent six weeks, we’ve had hundreds of people come, and everyone has said ‘this is what I want, this is what I don’t want,’ but we haven’t actually gotten anywhere,” he said.

The overlay district is bordered by the lake and the Buster Boyd Bridge to its east, and by a vertical boundary line that runs through the intersection of Highway 557 and Oakridge Road to its west. The overlay runs north to Mill Creek, and south to Crowders Creek.

The amendment aims to discourage mass grading in the overlay district by requiring buffers between the lake and all future development structures and limiting housing density, for example.

The decision came after a public hearing on the matter, during which almost 20 speakers addressed the council.

Several lawyers represented existing landowners within the overlay district who are trying to sell their property, which was another concern of lake residents who said that high-density development would hurt the property values of those who own large plots of land.

John Gettys, an attorney representing one of the property owners,said the amendment had disrupted his client’s engagement with a potential buyer, and suggested the council set a date for when the ordinance would go into effect. This would allow existing land owners to sell their properties without losing money.

Johnson said that was the “smartest thing” said all night, but also in order to allow property owners to close deals, the ordinance would not be able to go into effect for at least 12 to 18 months.

“If this is not addressed in the near future, with all the sediment build up, nobody’s property will be worth a cent,” Henderson said.

A presentation by the York County Economic Development Board early in the meeting led to council members speculating about the long-term effects of the overlay district on nonresidential construction during the hearing discussion.

Johnson said the amendment, as written, would not address the fact that too many residential developments are attempting to build around the lake.

“If we pass this, we don’t stop Mattamy tonight,” he said. “We have an opportunity to take this and start over, and make this a better ordinance, not just for Lake Wylie; this is something we’ve got to look at for the entire county.”

Mattamy Homes, a Canadian developer, received preliminary plat approval for a 175-lot single-family subdivision on 85 acres of land before the amendment came into play, and a portion of the project’s site lies within the overlay district.

Also at the meeting, representatives of Walton South Carolina LLC said that the overlay would prohibit their plans for developing a mix of retail, office, multifamily and single-family  residential development, with activity open space and amenities, on 213 acres. They said the overlay amendment would limit the company to building only 188 homes, with no activity open space and no amenities, which also would result in a loss of $5.4 million in tax revenue for the county over 10 years compared with the company’s original proposal.

which plans to build 188 single-family homes on 213 acres in the overlay area, spoke against the proposed density requirements, saying they would lose $5.5 million by reducing the number of homes built. The company in April bought the land for $2.7 million to build the Shoals at Crowders Creek subdivision, according to county real estate records. The development has not yet been approved.

In recent weeks, many landowners had used the proposed Mattamy development as an example of development they don’t want to see near the lake. They have claimed Mattamy’s high-density subdivision would be destructive to the lake, and add more traffic to already strained streets and highways.

Board members also said the county will not be able to keep up its infrastructure and public services if it continues to act as a “bedroom community,”  and suggested the county focus on encouraging industrial and commercial development by identifying how the county’s land should be used – or by how it should be zoned.

“The majority of the requests we receive from industries considering locating in York County is land within five miles of Interstate 77,” said David Swenson, executive director of the county’s Economic Development Board. “Unfortunately, that land is quickly being converted to residential developments. While on the surface the idea of more homes and apartments is appealing and will increase the tax base, we all know that because of South Carolina’s system of taxation, residential does not pay the bills.”

Doug Meyer-Cuno, a member of the economic development board who has previously spoken in favor of the overlay amendment, said the overlay’s revisions were a step towards attaining more industrial and commercial development.

“We simply have to develop long-term approaches that are reasonable, sustainable, and allow our community to thrive,” he said.

Johnson said it’s the county’s responsibility to set up a long-term development plan, and that the overlay amendment is the first step of the process.

“Eventually, (the overlay district) will be developed. Something’s going to go there,” he said. “The question is what it looks like, and the problem is your county hasn’t defined what it should look like.”

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