A York County Council proposal that could come up for discussion as early as Monday would stop all new housing construction in some of the fastest-growing portions of the county.
After long-simmering complaints from residents in the Fort Mill and Lake Wylie areas about overdevelopment, traffic jams and crowded schools, the proposal would stop the county from issuing any new housing plats for the Fort Mill and Bethel townships until the county can set criteria for how new development will affect public facilities, such as roads and utility systems.
No action is planned in the agenda for Monday’s county council meeting, although a representative from the Homebuilders Association is listed among several speakers who have asked to address council on the proposal first made at a Feb. 15 meeting.
It’s a broad and far-reaching proposal. Until county staff finish its own review and write an ordinance it’s a proposal without details on its scope or duration.
Other local governments have passed similar proposals recently, all in response to the same kind of growth pressure. Rock Hill last year went through a year-long ban on new apartment construction in certain areas of the city, while Lancaster County currently has a moratorium on rezonings in the Indian Land panhandle while its county council updates development standards.
Although each locality used different measures to meet slightly different ends, all show how – when faced with growth widely seen as getting out of control – local governments can hit the pause button.
“Shut off the pipeline”
In 2014, the city of Rock Hill was looking at what planners worried was a glut of new apartment construction. Some of the larger ones were clustered around Interstate 77, sparking worries the city was in danger of becoming a “bedroom community” for commuters.
In October 2014, city Planning Director Bill Meyer proposed what he called a “wide-ranging” nine-month moratorium – later extended by another three months – on new apartments, townhomes or condominimums within the city limits.
“And that had an immediate effect,” he said.
1,200 residential units already under construction or received city approval in Rock Hill before 2014-15 apartment moratorium.
40 percent of the city’s housing stock was already multi-family rental property.
At the time the moratorium went into effect, more than 1,200 residential units already were under construction or had received city approval – and an estimated 40 percent of the city’s housing stock was already multi-family rental property.
“As it stands, many of those haven’t even started” today, Meyer said. “But at least we shut off the pipeline.”
Rock Hill’s moratorium targeted one kind of housing rather than all housing, as York County’s proposal would, but it was still an exhaustive process for city workers as they developed tighter standards for multi-family construction and examined city zoning maps to see what areas they needed to closed off to new apartments.
“We had a firm game plan, but it was a pretty good number of properties that needed to be rezoned,” Meyer said. “That’s why we added three months.”
537 acres rezoned from multi-family to other uses following Rock Hill’s apartment moratorium.
For months leading up to the end of the moratorium, Rock Hill city council passed 28 separate rezoning actions – affecting 90 parcels and 537 acres – that made some areas ineligible for future multi-family use.
Developers and property owners who had hoped to build multi-family housing objected to the measure, “some mildly and some not,” Meyer said. “But with the passage of time, the amount of concern went down,” he said. “It was not as much of a change as they were expecting ... they realized what we were doing was not unreasonable.”
“What happened to the moratorium?”
Until June 8, any construction in the Indian Land panhandle that needs a new zoning for a property will have to wait. That’s when a Lancaster County moratorium on rezonings north of S.C. 5 is currently set to expire.
Unlike York County’s proposal, the freeze approved by Lancaster County Council last year hasn’t stopped all construction in the area. Any property where zoning already allows for new development, whether commercial or residential, can be developed.
“I’ve heard people ask after they see some activity, ‘What happened to the moratorium?’ ” said Penelope G. Karagounis, Lancaster County’s planning director. “Unfortunately, it still allows for use by right. There’s nothing we can do other than a developer’s agreement to deal with that growth.”
County council approved a moratorium there primarily to update Lancaster’s unified development ordinance, or UDO, which county leaders said had become outdated.
Unlike York County’s proposal, the freeze approved by Lancaster County Council last year hasn’t stopped all new construction in Indian Land.
“If you wanted to put up a strip mall, it would help,” said Steve Willis, the county administrator, but the UDO didn’t envision more “modern” developments such as the mixed commercial and residential features of Fort Mill’s Baxter Village.
At the same time, the standards only permitted more sprawling housing developments than county leaders wanted.
“If you wanted to make the housing more dense, but allow for more greenspace, the old UDO didn’t allow for that,” Willis said.
Growth in the Indian Land area has lead to the same sort of problems York County now hopes to alleviate. Karagounis said that U.S. 521 is the only north-south connector running through the panhandle, in some ways making congestion worse than Fort Mill’s S.C. 160. Likewise, Willis says the year-to-year growth in single-family housing construction reveals a challenge for the whole region.
The Catawba Regional Council of Governments records a 6.3 percent growth in building permits for houses in Lancaster County between 2014 and 2015. In the same stretch of time, York County saw a 54.6 percent growth in building permits.
To deal with the issue, Karagounis said she proposed something similar to what York County is considering now: a moratorium on all building permits in the panhandle, before council scaled back to a zoning freeze.
Now she hopes to achieve some of the same goals with a new formula for assessing impact fees on developers. Currently, the county assesses a $1,000 fee per lot on developers to address public safety issues – increased demand on fire departments, EMS and the sheriff’s office – plus $500 per lot to compensate the school district.
If county council approves, those fees could increase, and take into account the same kind of public facilities questions York County hopes to put into an ordinance at the end of its freeze.
Both measures will require more action from county governments down the road.