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York County inches toward new-housing ban

York County, faced with increased traffic congestion, demands on infrastructure and beleaguered planners, is a step closer to suspending residential development in the Fort Mill area.

The County Council voted 5-2 Monday to preliminarily approve an ordinance that would freeze the acceptance of rezoning applications for new single-family and apartment projects in the unincorporated areas of the township. The moratorium would last through the end of the year if approved in a third, and final, reading in June.

The draft ordinance, which also would restrict the county from accepting single-family and multifamily site plans and preliminary plats, said a spike in residential development over the last few years is adversely impacting the county’s ability to service roads, intersections and other infrastructure.

Many council members appeared reluctant to lend their support to the development freeze, saying they would vote for it so that a public hearing on the issue could be held May 16.

Others hoped modifications to the proposed ordinance would be forthcoming.

“I’ll support the first reading based on principal,” said Councilman Bruce Henderson of District 2. “It’s for the sake of moving forward one time. I may not support it in a second reading.”

District 5 Councilwoman Christi Cox echoed that sentiment, adding that a moratorium “appeases folks.” She said she preferred a requirement that all rezoning petitions include a traffic-impact analysis so that the council could deny such requests if it had concerns that a proposed project would “dump additional traffic onto roads that cannot sustain it.”

Cox also said the ordinance fell short of resolving the congestion and public safety concerns brought about by rapid population increases.

“There is a serious growth issue in Fort Mill,” Cox said. “Let’s come up with a real solution. My concern is that this won’t get us there.”

York and Lancaster counties were two of the fastest-growing counties in South Carolina between 2013 and 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Last year, Lancaster County halted the processing of rezoning applications so that its Planning Department could focus on rewriting the county’s zoning ordinance so that it would be more in line with the county’s updated comprehensive land-use plan. The suspension, slated to end this June, affected only Indian Land because development there has been greater than in nearly any submarket in the Charlotte region. Lancaster County wants to encourage more higher-density projects with a variety of uses in the area north of S.C. Highway 5.

Along with a moratorium, the York County Council has considered other measures – such as an adequate facilities ordinance, requiring that all future roads be private, and allowing multifamily only in certain zoning districts – to ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place to support rapid development.

District 1 Councilman Michael Johnson, who represents a large swath of the Fort Mill area covered in the ordinance, said he would vote in favor of the proposal “if it is an attempt by council to step back and get information” on how to deal with the area’s clogged and deteriorating roads.

“Let’s not freeze rezonings just for the sake of doing so,” he said.

Johnson and Cox supported the creation of a study group of building professionals and residents that could bring a plan to council on how to meet infrastructure demands.

Johnson added that county’s planning staff was overwhelmed and unable to tackle such issues.

According to the draft ordinance, York County reviewed 2,534 residential building plans last year, a 36 percent increase over 2014. As for apartment developments, it reviewed six plans in 2015 and seven in 2014. That was up from three and one in 2013 and 2012.

Joe Padilla, executive public policy director for the Real Estate Building and Industry Coalition, said the county has been making strides in dealing with its infrastructure needs, including finalizing its comprehensive land-use plan that guides development.

But, he said, a moratorium on new residential development is not the answer.

“They are saying to the business community that we’re not the place to be because we can’t manage growth,” he said. “You can’t take a time out just to get ahead of the curve. There are longstanding consequences.”

For example, Padilla said, recent corporate expansions into York County, such as those of LPL Financial and Lash Group into Fort Mill, translate into thousands of new jobs.

“These people need someplace to live,” Padilla said, adding that a lack of housing will cause them to move to Lancaster and Chester counties but won’t stop them from using the already strained infrastructure to commute to work.

He said that even the talk of a moratorium over the last several months has sidelined some rezoning applications and development.

“It can take five or six months between negotiating for a property and submitting a rezoning,” Padilla said. “If you don’t think you can submit, you’ll sit on your hands instead of wasting time and money.”

Padilla said he was not surprised by the council’s decision to approve the first reading of the ordinance and noted the council members’ general hesitancy on moving forward with further readings. He said REBIC would provide input to the county over the issue in the coming months.

Kent Olson, owner of residential land-development company Development Solutions Group, agrees with Padilla that putting the brakes on residential construction will not fix the problem.

“Moratoriums are job killers,” he said. “It’s almost immoral to tell somebody you can’t come here.”

Olson said the focus, instead, should be on obtaining federal and state funds for road improvements and expanding York County’s Pennies for Progress program, which helps fund county road projects.

The two council members who voted against the draft proposal, Chairman Britt Blackwell of District 6 and William “Bump” Roddy of District 4, also cited concerns about the potential economic impact a moratorium could have.

Blackwell added that a halt on new residential development was unnecessary, because the council already is capable of denying rezoning requests on a case-by-case basis.

“We’re coming forward with an image thing instead of seeking results,” he said. “I’m not about reactionary conduct of a governing body.”

Roddy likened the suspending of development to putting a “chokehold” on developers.

Rob Youngblood, president of the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce, was more phlegmatic in his approach to the voting results. He said the chamber, whose primary goals include promoting business development and economic growth, hasn’t yet taken a position on the matter.

“We’re looking at the issue,” he said.

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