March 6, 2014

Fort Mill planning for major growth in next 20 years

Each department in Fort Mill is looking to see how it will keep up with the growth projected through 2030, which could be an almost tripling from the 2010 census to 30,000 residents.

Fort Mill leaders expect the town could triple its population in the next 20 years.

Joe Cronin, Fort Mill’s planning director, estimated the town’s 2010 U.S. Census population of 10,800 will grow to 30,000 by 2030. That growth would impact engineering, utilities and public works, and fire service and police protection would need to keep up.

Town administration is already looking at moving or expanding its location to keep up with the work being done as well as keeping an eye on what central facilities are needed to serve a population triple the current number.

“We’re just bursting from within,” Town Manager Dennis Pieper told the council at a recent meeting.

Cronin compared Fort Mill to the South Carolina coastal town of Bluffton that’s growing faster per capita than Fort Mill. Bluffton has 20 people on its planning and development staff.

“We have a planning department of one,” Cronin said.

As the Town Council recently asked staff to look into economic development incentives for business, Cronin said there are critical needs in his office, namely a transportation planner and engineers.

“There are a lot of things we could be doing that we aren’t doing,” he said.

Public safety is another concern. Fire Chief Jeff Hooper told the council it’s difficult to plan more than five or 10 years out.

His department is turning a home near Doby’s Bridge Park to a fire substation to serve the growing southern end of town. Hooper said other substations are needed in the Flint Hill area, Riverview area near Interstate 77 and the Sutton Road area near Love’s Plaza.

The department also needs a fire marshal and pre-fire plans as it tackles a growing business base, including multistory buildings. Some commercial structure fires require two engines and a ladder truck. There’s one engine responding now. Hooper said his department is looking for grant money and insurance reimbursement from wrecks to help provide for department needs.

The town’s police department is responding to a significant increase in calls, many from wrecks or traffic issues. Chief Jeff Helms told the council at the workshop his department is out of office space and evidence storage.

Each department head was asked how they would respond to the growth. Engineering is working on water and sewer capacity along the Fort Mill Southern Bypass and elsewhere. Projections show wastewater needs could be six times what’s flowing and twice what the town is permitted to handle.

Public works is examining if contracting garbage and recycling to a private company makes sense. The council also discussed a need for a leaf disposal facility.

Parks and Recreation will ask the county to re-evaluate the $70,000 it provides the town. About 40 percent of participants in Fort Mill programs come from outside town limits.

Councilman Nathan Blythe said at a workshop the county should consider if it’s paying an equitable share of the cost of allowing nonresidents to participate in town programs, such as youth sports. The parks department’s budget is $600,000 to $700,000 a year.

The council hasn’t voted on any recommendations.

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