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Fort Mill gives initial nod to 2,900-home development

Kanawha Land is seeking to build 2,900 homes in a mixed-use project on more than 700 acres in Fort Mill. Single-family residences would be placed in the yellow areas, while multifamily units would be reserved for the brown areas. Commercial buildings would be constructed in the red zones, with the green sections used for parks and open space. The orange areas would accommodate multifamily and commercial space. Rendering courtesy of Fort Mill Planning Department

Kanawha Land is seeking to build 2,900 homes in a mixed-use project on more than 700 acres in Fort Mill. Single-family residences would be placed in the yellow areas, while multifamily units would be reserved for the brown areas. Commercial buildings would be constructed in the red zones, with the green sections used for parks and open space. The orange areas would accommodate multifamily and commercial space. Rendering courtesy of Fort Mill Planning Department

The Fort Mill Town Council has given the initial go-ahead to a project that could result in 2,900 homes being built on more than 700 acres bisected by Fort Mill Parkway.

The site is owned by former U.S. Rep. John Spratt, whose family has owned the property for 250 years.

Despite calls from several local residents to halt the project, the council on Monday voted unanimously to approve the first readings of three separate measures. They include the annexation and rezoning of 688 acres east of Spratt Street and touching on the Catawba River; the rezoning of an adjacent 23-acre parcel at Kanawha Street and Brickyard Road; and the creation of a development agreement with Spratt’s limited liability company, Kanawha Land.

The larger property is currently under York County light industrial zoning, while the smaller tract is zoned for residential use. Kanawha Land wants to rezone both tracts for mixed-use development, which will allow commercial space to accompany the residences.

A second, and final, reading on the proposals will be held on June 27.

Initial plans call for 1,700 single-family homes and 1,200 townhomes and apartments on nearly 550 acres. A minimum of 15 percent of the total 2,900 units will be either age-targeted age-restricted.

Spratt will donate 64 acres to the town for park land and public access to the Catawba River, and an additional 64 acres will be reserved for green space and a buffer zone along the river. Current plans show at least 350,000 square feet of commercial space, which could include a hotel, restaurants, offices and medical and retail space, on 35 acres east of Spratt Street.

Fort Mill Planning Director Joe Cronin said he expected the project, if approved, to launch in about two years. Part of the time frame will include Spratt selling the land for development.

Reached by phone, Spratt said he was marketing the land because “every good thing comes to an end,” and that in doing so, “we’re able to have some shape on the things to come.”

He said he has spoken to several interested parties, but declined further comment.

Cronin added that the prospect of building 2,900 homes would be “the largest contiguous annexation for housing that we have had.” The town doubled in size in 2008 after annexing several thousand acres of combined land owned by Clear Springs Development.

The latest project, if approved, will dwarf other large residential developments in Fort Mill. For example, Lennar has plans for about 1,050 homes at Waterside at the Catawba, while the mixed-use Kingsley development owned by Clear Springs has approval to build 1,025 residences.

The size of the Kanawha Land proposal prompted opposition from several Fort Mill residents during Monday’s public hearing. They cited the increased traffic congestion and strains on infrastructure and schools that such a large residential project could bring.

“Adding 2,900 homes is not good for this area,” Matt McNeely said. “We can’t support it.”

Al Rogat said that he didn’t mind the annexation but that the property should remain zoned for light industrial use. He told the council to think of “all the traffic and children and all that entails.”

Fort Mill School District Superintendent James Epps said in a June 7 letter to Cronin that he opposed the project’s large residential component. He said it would add nearly 1,900 students to the district, resulting in $93.8 million in construction costs for new schools to accommodate them.

The town is among the fastest-growing municipalities in South Carolina. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Fort Mill’s population has grown 21 percent since 2010 to nearly 14,000. The number of enrolled students at Fort Mill Schools has quadrupled since the late 1990s, Epps said in his letter.

Due to such rapid growth, York County recently considered imposing a moratorium on residential development in the unincorporated areas of the township. The council voted by a narrow margin last month to jettison the proposal after two council members who had previously supported the idea changed their minds. They said they already had the power to deny rezoning requests and were looking at other measures to control growth.

Some Fort Mill residents were in favor of Kanawha Land’s plans, saying that Spratt had “every right” to sell his property and that they appreciated the project’s inclusion of recreational space. Some suggested that bicycle lanes be added to future site plans to ameliorate traffic concerns and promote a healthy lifestyle.

The council ultimately followed the planning commission’s recommendation that the project move forward.

Councilman Larry Huntley reminded those present that the Baxter Village mixed-use development, which has more than 1,400 homes, is unincorporated. That means the town cannot collect property taxes from residents there. At the same time, he said, Baxter Village has increased the number of children in the Fort Mill school system and traffic on the interstate.

Huntley said development could still occur on the land even if the council decided not to annex and rezone the Kanawha Land property.

“Spratt could have gone to Rock Hill for annexation,” he said, adding that he believes that city would be eager to comply.

“Our choice is to look at the situation,” he said. “I think this is best for Fort Mill.”

Councilwoman Lisa McCarley told meeting attendees that the council had three options: allow Rock Hill to annex the land, leave the property within county control, or approve the proposal and place the project under Fort Mill jurisdiction.

“We have thought about this wholeheartedly,” she said before casting her vote in favor of moving ahead.

Cronin, reached after the meeting, said that “if the property stays in the county or jumps the river to Rock Hill, we would not collect property taxes or have approval for what will be built there.”

The town’s development agreement calls for the developer to pay impact fees. Those funds, Cronin said, would go toward offsetting the costs of growth by paying for such things as capital improvements, parks, garbage collection, and fire stations.

In addition, Kanawha Land must complete a traffic-impact analysis once site-specific plans have been laid out. The developer also would be responsible for any off-site road improvements deemed necessary by the town and the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

Cronin called the agreement “the first step in putting a framework in place” and that the project still requires Fort Mill Planning Commission approval for items such as sketch plans and plats. In addition, the developer will need to obtain various permits.

He said the proposed development agreement calls for construction to be completed in four five-year phases that would equate to the building of about 150 homes per year.

It would be a “big project” with a long-term buildout paced to meet infrastructure needs, he said.

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