Rock Hill City Council approves utility rate hike, McDonald’s rezoning, Comporium project

adouglas@heraldonline.comJune 24, 2013 

The Rock Hill City Council on Monday unanimously approved a 6 percent electricity rate increase, gave its final approval to rezoning land for a McDonald’s restaurant and sealed the deal on a development plan with Comporium Communications.

The rate increase for customers is necessary, Mayor Doug Echols said, to keep up with the rising cost of buying power.

A Charlotte resident with 67 rental homes near Rock Hill’s Saluda Street told the council the rate increase will hit hardest the people who already are struggling to pay their utility bills.

The 6 percent increase will add about $6.59 monthly for a household using 1,000 kilowatts of power an hour.

For a single mother of three, the rate increase means taking food from the family’s table, said Vincent James, rental property owner.

Starting July 1, the rate Rock Hill customers pay for electricity will be 31 percent higher than it was 10 years ago. In that same time period, the city’s property taxes have decreased by about 8 percent.

When the city’s power provider, the Piedmont Municipal Power Agency, increases its wholesale rate, Rock Hill has to pass some of the higher costs on to its customers, Echols said.

But he said the council understands “there are people out there who struggle to make their payments.”

The city’s agreement with PMPA is “long-term,” Echols said, answering James’ question of why Rock Hill doesn’t shop around for cheaper power providers.

PMPA owns 25 percent of one reactor at the Catawba Nuclear Station on Lake Wylie.

Rock Hill is guaranteed a supply of electricity from the plant because it took on some debt through PMPA to finance the nuclear reactor.

Mayor Pro-Tem John Black said the decision to raise rates is taken “very seriously.”

“It gives all of us heartburn to even consider raising rates,” he said.

McDonald’s rezoning request approved

After more than one year of planning, representatives from McDonald’s Corp. can apply for a building permit for a new restaurant at the corner of Mount Gallant and Celanese roads.

No neighbors of the site spoke Monday night, although several have been fighting for months the company’s bid to rezone a parcel land near the intersection.

The zoning board last week approved a variance for McDonald’s to move one of its entry points on Monterey Drive, a residential street, closer to Celanese Road.

Originally, the S.C. Department of Transportation said it wouldn’t allow a restaurant in-and-out point that close to a major thoroughfare such as Celanese Road.

Some neighbors and council members have said they may want to close off one end of Monterey Drive if the restaurant’s traffic negatively impacts Oakwood Acres, the neighborhood closest to the commercial development.

The process is lengthy but city officials will be available to provide information to residents wanting to put a cul-de-sac on one end of Monterey Drive, said Bill Meyer, Rock Hill planning director.

On Monday, the rezoning request was approved in a 6-0 vote with Councilman Jim Reno recusing himself because of a business relationship with the applicant.

City, Comporium agree to build new office, park

Council members applauded after their vote to enter into a development agreement with Comporium to bring a four-story, 48,000-square-foot office building to downtown Rock Hill.

The company’s $9.1 million investment in the new space is “very admirable,” said Councilman Kevin Sutton.

A municipal parking lot – once proposed to be “low-income” apartments – will be turned into a park to complement Comporium’s building, he said.

The building will be a “cornerstone” in the city’s “Old Town East” development project, Sutton said.

Rock Hill plans to spend about $6 million on the park and street improvements and $3.4 million on a new parking garage, which will have reserved spaces for Comporium’s office building.

The revamped eastern side of downtown will be a “catalyst for new economic development,” said Stephen Turner, Rock Hill’s economic development director.

Both the city and Comporium are taking “considerable risks” in the downtown investment, Reno said, but the project will be “something special for the city.”

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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