Rock Hill council rejects Walmart market plans for Celanese Road

adouglas@heraldonline.comJanuary 27, 2014 

Walmart plans to build a 42,000-square-foot Neighborhood Market grocery store at the corner of Celanese and Ebinport roads in Rock Hill.

— A majority of Rock Hill’s City Council members rejected on Monday night a development plan that sought to bring a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market grocery store and new shopping center to the corner of Celanese and Ebinport roads.

Over the past four months, dozens of residents who live near the proposed development site have raised concerns about the potential for increased traffic, saying that a retail shopping area could impact their quality of life and property values.

On Monday, City Council members who voted against Wal-Mart’s plan cited their own concerns about existing traffic problems at nearby intersections. The development plan, some council members said, could worsen the problem in areas such as the intersection of Celanese and India Hook roads.

Still, Mayor Doug Echols supported the plan, saying Celanese Road is destined for commercial growth: “This isn’t going to change.”

He said Wal-Mart or another company could build a grocery store “by right” – or without the City Council’s approval – on most of the 14 acres included in the recent rezoning request.

The land sits just outside city limits, in York County. The county’s zoning – or allowed uses for the land – permits commercial use, though most of the 14 acres is occupied by a single-family home and undeveloped property. A vacant day care center is also part of the site.

The developer, Steve West of Halpern Enterprises in Atlanta, says he may now take his plan to York County officials for consideration.

He and Wal-Mart wanted Rock Hill officials to sign off on rezoning and annexation requests which would have brought the 14-acre shopping center site into city limits. Plans called for a 42,000 square-foot grocery store, a gas station and associated retail shops.

Councilwoman Kathy Pender was the first on Monday to say she would not support the development plan.

West did a good job answering questions and tweaking his plans over the past few months but more commercial growth could add stress to Celanese Road difficult intersections, Pender said.

Councilman Jim Reno felt similarly, saying that Rock Hill is headed toward “malfunction junction” at the Celanese Road intersection with Interstate 77 if some traffic issues aren’t solved.

The development plan called for adding a traffic signal at the intersection of Celanese and Ebinport roads to accommodate the new shopping center – a sticking point for Councilman Kevin Sutton.

Celanese Road – one of Rock Hill’s busiest thoroughfares – should be an effective connector to I-77, Sutton said, not a road drivers try to “avoid” because of the many traffic signals.

For Councilwoman Sandra Oborokumo, the opposition from some neighbors and a petition with more than 500 signatures showed “the residents just do not want this to come into their community at this time,” she said.

West, the developer, said he was “very disappointed” with the council’s decision.

“We thought that we’d addressed in a responsible way all the concerns that had been raised,” he said.

“Some of the ones that we heard tonight – concerns about traffic at India Hook and Celanese (roads) – are issues that exist today. That’s not something that’s come up (at past meetings).”

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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