FORT MILL -- Town leaders are weighing questions and fears from the community as they consider doubling the size of Fort Mill under a proposal to annex 5,000 acres.
"I'm worried about traffic and the police and fire departments being able to keep up," resident Joan Carlson said last week during a Town Council meeting packed with residents who posed questions about the proposed annexation.
Others chimed in with similar concerns, causing one developer to schedule a public question-and- answer session from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Spratt Building, 215 Main St. A public hearing before the council votes on the annexation will be during a 7 a.m. meeting on July 28.
Clear Springs Development -- the company that's winding down the development of Baxter Village -- wants the town to annex about 2,700 acres spread across all or parts of 23 properties on the outskirts of the town limits.
In addition, Leroy Springs and Co. is asking the town to annex the 1,800-acre Anne Springs Close Greenway. And Cherokee Development and the Culture and Heritage Foundation, which runs the Museum of York County and other cultural sites, are asking for 390 acres for two connected projects.
If approved, the annexations would more than double the geographical size of Fort Mill -- expanding the town limits from the southern edge of Baxter Village to Regent Park.
The council is considering development agreements for the projects. Both the annexation requests and the development agreements received unanimous approvals on first votes last week.
"I think the plans are great," Mayor Danny Funderburk said. "The development agreements walk hand-in-hand with the comprehensive plan we just paid $150,000 for."
Short term vs. long term
But Councilman Grady Ervin said some of the terms in the Clear Springs Development Agreement "are a little out of kilter." Ervin said he is concerned about the length of the agreement, which spans 20 years with the option for Clear Springs to renew it for another 20-year term.
Ervin said he would prefer the agreement be done in five-year increments. He is worried about tying the hands of future councils by locking the town into a long-term agreement.
"We have to be careful when we sign long-term deals," Ervin said. "If 20 years ago the council had signed an agreement like this, we'd probably be trying to get out of it now."
Funderburk said he'd like to see a shorter time frame for the agreement as well. But he added the agreement gives Fort Mill a long-term, detailed development plan for all the property. He also points to the company's history of stewardship of the land under its control.
"I don't think there will be any surprises or curve balls," Funderburk said.
The Clear Springs plan includes a mix of commercial, industrial and residential development. It includes an emphasis on developing the commercial portions of mixed commercial and residential villages first, to provide a tax base to support the residential development.
Clear Springs will be responsible for installing the needed infrastructure for the developments. It will donate a 1-acre parcel to Fort Mill for a fire station on a site to be determined by the town and the developer.
The agreement exempts Clear Springs from any adequate public facilities ordinance the town might pass in the future. No such law exists in the town, and such an ordinance has never been seriously considered for Fort Mill.
Clear Springs' attorneys argued that, because of the length and detail of the agreement, the fact that the company will be installing the infrastructure and because Clear Springs will be buying necessities such as water and sewer line capacity up front, planners already will know what to expect.
The proposed Greenway development agreement covers improvements to its facilities. Aside from one 10-acre parcel, the Greenway is protected from development through a conservation easement with the Nation Ford Land Trust.
The easement carved out the 10-acre parcel, allowing Leroy Springs and Co., which manages the Greenway, to develop or sell the parcel to pay for continued operation of the Greenway.
Some residents aren't convinced this is best for the town.
"Why are we doing this?" Greenway neighbor Paul Irving asked about annexing the Anne Springs Close Greenway. "What is the incentive to the city if there is no tax revenue?"
Councilman Tom Adams answered that bringing the Greenway into the town limits makes some Clear Springs properties, and other large tracts, contiguous with town limits.
Fort Mill firefighter Jerry Chapman said he's not worried.
"I've lived here 50 years, my whole life, and if you really knew the history of this family, you would not have any worries at all," Chapman said, referring to the Springs Close family, which established the Greenway. "If you knew Miss Anne (Springs Close) you wouldn't worry about any trees being cut down."