Rejecting Walmart market plan could bring Rock Hill lawsuit

adouglas@heraldonline.comMay 12, 2014 

— A developer hoping to build a Walmart Neighborhood Market and shopping center on Celanese Road may sue the city of Rock Hill if City Council members do not reverse their January decision to block the development, Councilman Kevin Sutton says.

A majority of the council gave its initial approval for the development on Monday night, with Sutton and Councilwoman Kathy Pender opposed. A second majority “yes” vote later this month would reverse the council’s January rejection.

Walmart’s developer, Steve West of Halpern Enterprises in Atlanta, is asking the City Council to approve a rezoning and annexation request that would allow for development of about 14 acres at the corner of Celanese and Ebinport roads.

West said suing Rock Hill is “not something we would want to do.”

But Sutton said the developer “has threatened to sue to the city. But I have not bought into the fact that the developer’s case is that strong.”

If council members again reject the plan, West could choose to still build on the proposed site but the land would remain in York County, just outside Rock Hill’s city limits.

Under York County regulations, West would not need the land to be rezoned.

West’s development would need utility service from the city. Previous contracts between landowners and the city should provide him a right to utility services, he said.

A potential lawsuit could stem from a dispute over rights to utility services, West said, not his request for rezoning or annexation.

The council did not discuss publicly Monday the details of any potential lawsuit. Council members held executive session to talk about six “potential litigation” matters.

Dozens of residents who live near the proposed store site have said since October 2013 that they are concerned about Walmart increasing crime, traffic and noise around their neighborhood. Sutton and others on council have voiced their own concerns over the development worsening existing traffic issues along Rock Hill’s busiest thoroughfare, Celanese Road.

The development plan calls for a 42,000-square-foot Walmart Neighborhood Market, other retail stores and a gas station. Walmart’s Neighborhood Markets – which are about one-quarter of the size of the company’s Supercenter – are similar to grocery stores.

Councilman John Black first asked two weeks ago for the council to reconsider the Walmart proposal. He noted West’s ability to build the shopping center in York County, which would give Rock Hill no control over development standards or the types of businesses allowed.

Since the City Council rejected the plan in January, West said he has made several changes to quell concerns. Under the revised plan, the shopping center would be an increased distance from the neighboring Swan Meadows subdivision. At it’s narrowest point, the buffer between the proposed commercial area would be about 35 feet from the nearest home.

A 6-foot-high wooden fence and a row of mature trees is proposed to separate Swan Meadows from Walmart.

The revised plan also calls for limited truck traffic hours that will not allow deliveries to Walmart between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

If the shopping center is built without city approvals and an annexation into Rock Hill city limits, Walmart’s parking lot would be closer to Swan Meadows than it is shown in the plan West hopes the City Council will approve.

Building under county rules is “Plan B,” West said, adding that his plan for developing without annexation is one with “a number of drawbacks that we weren’t really happy with.”

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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