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York County nixes moratorium on Fort Mill development

The York County Council voted by a narrow margin Monday to jettison a proposed moratorium on residential development in the Fort Mill area.

The council voted 4-3 on the second of three readings to reject an ordinance that would have frozen the acceptance of rezoning applications for new single-family and apartment projects in the unincorporated areas of the township.

The council, faced with increased traffic congestion and infrastructure demands brought on by rapid development, had approved the measure in April by a vote of 5-2. Councilmen Britt Blackwell of District 6 and William “Bump” Roddy of District 4 cast the two votes against the measure last month.

But this week, Councilmen Chad Williams of District 7 and Robert Winkler of District 3 concurred with Blackwell and Roddy, with Williams saying that the council already had the power to deny rezoning requests.

“I don’t see the need for an exercise to create an ordinance on something we can already do,” he said. Furthermore, he said, a freeze on rezoning applications would restrict the council from approving low-density projects it might want to consider.

Winkler said he changed his mind because he had recently learned of other ways in which the county could contain growth. He said the county is working on a comprehensive infrastructure plan and is updating its traffic impact analysis ordinance, which could potentially require rezoning petitioners to include traffic impact analysis studies with their requests. That would enable the council to deny rezoning requests if it determined the proposed development would place too great a strain on local roads.

The council also is considering other measures, such as an adequate facilities ordinance that would prevent new development from being approved until the necessary infrastructure was in place to support it.

York County is one of the fastest-growing areas in the Charlotte region. The county’s population increased more than 35 percent to 226,100 in 2010 from nearly 165,000 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Chairman Britt Blackwell said before casting his vote against the moratorium that such a measure would send the wrong message to the public.

“It creates a very negative business-climate image for the county,” he said.

Over the last several months, the council has heard opposition from developers on the proposal. They said residential expansion is a necessary stepping stone to commercial growth and a strong employment base.

Joe Padilla, executive public policy director for the Real Estate Building and Industry Coalition, said he was pleased that the council had opted to vote down the moratorium.

“We and others in the development community had a lot of discussion with the council to explore other tools on managing growth and ensuring it is sustainable without turning off the faucet,” he said, adding that REBIC will continue to work with the council on the issue.

But District 1 Councilman Michael Johnson, who represents a large swath of the Fort Mill area that would have been covered in the ordinance, said it was necessary because the council awards rezoning petitions by a majority vote.

“The council could still overrule me,” he said, on any vote he cast against a proposed rezoning affecting his district.

Councilwoman Christi Cox of District 5 also voted for the proposal, saying she supported the measure on a second reading because it would allow the council to hold a public hearing on the issue.

“If we vote against this, the public won’t be heard,” she said.

District 2 Councilman Bruce Henderson, who represents constituents in the Lake Wylie area, appeared exasperated by the council’s majority viewpoint against the moratorium. He said that he and Johnson faced “unbelievable pressure” from the effects of rapid residential development.

He said the county’s management of growth issues was, at best, poor.

“We’re trying to right some wrongs in order to have better management of this unbelievable growth,” he said, adding that a moratorium was not an effort to stop “prosperity and business.”

He said he didn’t understand why the council was “shying away because of the least little ‘boo’ from a lawyer,” who, citing legal concerns, had advised council members before the meeting to excise a section of the ordinance that would have included site plans and preliminary plats in the moratorium. Johnson motioned to amend the text to eliminate site plans and preliminary plats from the moratorium, and was seconded by Cox.

“I’m fed up with running and hiding every time somebody says ‘boo,’” Henderson said, adding that the council needed to “man up” in its decision-making process.

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