Many of the people attending a public hearing Tuesday on Lancaster County’s proposed revised unified development ordinance and zoning map objected to overlays meant to protect people from catastrophic hazardous-materials accidents involving trains and pipelines.
“This is something that will devastate, we think, our area,” said Rudy Carter of Elgin. “If you own property with an overlay, and you try to sell it, chances are you aren’t going to get a buyer.”
About 70 people attended the county Planning Commission’s public hearing Tuesday at the County Administration Building in Lancaster.
The commission did not vote on whether to recommend the council adopt the ordinance, however.
Planning Director Penelope G. Karagounis said at the beginning of the hearing that after meeting with the County Council on Monday and state and local agencies – and taking into account comments made Tuesday – that the documents will be revised before a vote is taken.
“We know that there are some revisions that we’ve been making,” she said. “Let us go back and revise it.”
Karagounis said the revisions would be published for public review by Sept. 2, and the commission will hold another meeting at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 3 to consider voting on it.
The county’s planning staff and the Catawba Regional Council of Governments have been working on the ordinance and zoning map for about 18 months.
In June 2015, the county imposed a moratorium on new zoning applications for land north of S.C. Highway 5, in the quickly developing Panhandle wedged between the North Carolina state line and York County. The area, which includes the unincorporated area known as Indian Land, has been one of the fastest-growing submarkets of the Charlotte area. The moratorium was twice extended as the six-member planning staff worked on the rewrites, and is now set to expire Dec. 31.
Kara Drane, a senior planner at the Catawba Regional Council of Governments, highlighted the purpose and provisions of the UDO for the commission and residents attending the meeting.
The UDO includes two new overlay districts: Hazardous Liquid Pipeline/Rail and Carolina Thread Trail.
The pipeline and rail overlay district is designed to protect people from the consequences of a hazardous materials accident. The pipeline overlay requires a 75-foot setback for habitable structures; the rail right of way requirement is already greater than that.
For both pipelines and rail, it requires a 500-foot setback for “high consequences land uses,” such as schools, hospitals, nursing care facilities, churches and apartment buildings.
Most of the people who spoke at the hearing said the setbacks were too large.
“It’s quite an extensive area impacted,” said Billy Harper. “There are schools, fire departments, community centers … I counted 14 churches.
“A lot of people are going to be affected by this,” he said. “If you can’t use your property to the full extent, will the value of your property go down?”
Rick Chandler, an attorney from the Elgin community, raised legal concerns regarding the Carolina Thread Trail Overlay. The Carolina Thread Trail is a 15-county, two-state effort to develop a web of interconnected greenways and walking trails. The proposed overlay district would require builders to either provide an easement or construct a natural-surface trail.
“What legal authority does Lancaster County have to force me, if I develop my property, to give a 10-foot easement for a greenway?” he asked. Should someone on the trail be injured, he asked, “How will owners be indemnified from liability?”
The UDO, which is mandated by the South Carolina Planning Act, was last updated 18 years ago. In addition to fixing inconsistencies and making the documents more user friendly, the county is updating them to meet the vision laid out in the most recent comprehensive plan, which was adopted in 2014.
The biggest change, Karagounis said, was the replacement of planned development districts with mixed-use districts. She said three “pedestrian center” nodes were added in within Indian Land’s mixed-use districts that will allow densities of up to 10 or 12 units per acre, in order to accommodate the area’s growth patterns.
She said that in return for providing greater densities, those areas will require developers to construct amenities such as wider sidewalks and bike lanes.
The document will serve as a blueprint for development in the county’s starkly divergent districts – the increasingly urbanized north versus the rural character elsewhere.
The ordinance and map are available for review online at http://bit.ly/1kKuqVi or in the county voter registration office at 101 N. Main St., Lancaster, from 8:30 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Planning staff members will be available to answer questions.