A proposal that prompted talk of a building moratorium a month ago is now recommended for approval, as Fort Mill planners decided that property owners should have to do their share in solving road problems.
The town planning commission voted 4-1 Tuesday night in favor of an annexation request for 168 acres on S. Dobys Bridge Road. The Talkington family is selling the property to Hunton Capital Partners, with plans for more than 350 homes.
One of the family members, John Talkington, is an employee of the Herald, a sister paper to the Fort Mill Times.
At its July meeting, the commission told the developer it had concerns with traffic on S. Dobys where a 2013 state estimate put the road at 105 percent of capacity. Kevin Granelli, representing the developer, came back with an offer of $150,000 to go toward transportation improvements, and right-of-way easements for future widening. That offer prompted the commission to ask how much should be expected of any one development.
“It seems unfair to ask one person to correct the issues of those who have come before,” said Chairman James Traynor. “To pay your fair share, that seems fair.”
A final decision on the annexation must come from Town Council. Commission members agreed that traffic on S. Dobys is a major issue. They agreed that bringing in more homes will make it worse.
“This is a bigger problem than y’all,” Commissioner Chris Wolfe told the Talkingtons in the almost hour-long conversation preceding a vote. “Y’all are just the ones in front of us.”
A recent study said traffic on the road was 10 percent over capacity.
Commissioner Hynek Lettang cast the dissenting vote. His reasoning was simple.
“Are we willing to incrementally put a little more burden on an area that has a problem?” he asked.
Even commissioners supporting the move offered similar thoughts.
“The problem is, we’ve got to make a stand at some point,” Wolfe said.
Traynor said landowners shouldn’t be held accountable for town, state and other planning agencies in charge of keeping roadways from pouring over capacity. Denying one landowner when other major projects nearby are underway — approved projects on N. Dobys Bridge and S. Dobys Bridge will bring thousands more homes — also is “fraught with legal complexities,” he said.
The recommended approval is contingent on a formal traffic impact analysis study, a development agreement to include a hard cap on the number of homes and the donations. Granelli said whatever traffic improvements are required by the analysis will be done at the developer’s expense, and the $150,000 would be in addition to any such project.
The donation to a yet to exist transportation fund would come before work to the road or property.
“That (payment) would be immediate upon closing,” Granelli said. “It’s up to the complete discretion of the town.”
Planners still aren’t sure what to do about the larger issue of traffic in the area.
“If the issue is capacity, it’s an issue of what do we do with Dobys in its entirety,” said Joe Cronin, town planning director.
The road is identified as a long-range need in the Rock Hill-Fort Mill Area Transportation Study. The town wouldn’t be able to handle the multimillion dollar project, Cronin said, which likely would have to receive funding from another round of Pennies for Progress, the countywide one-cent sales tax for road work.
“Right now it’s not on any funded list,” Cronin said.
The town is looking at a traffic impact fee for new development. The donation approach, similar to what Waterside on the Catawba developers gave toward a new fire station within that development, is another option. Cronin listed a host of others for the commission to consider for helping alleviate traffic, from new or rerouted taxes for roads to lowering speed limits to reduce non-resident cut-through traffic.
“The people who sit in the traffic in the mornings, that traffic that I sit in, you can’t tell them it’s not real,” Wolfe said.
Among several other decisions, the commission also unanimously approved an annexation request of 35 acres on Whites Road. The White family wants to put almost 100 high-end homes on the site near Dominion Bridge and the future Pecan Ridge subdivision. The site also is across from a proposed, future high school site.
That approval is contingent on planning with the Fort Mill School District to coordinate entrances, a traffic analysis, cap on the number of homes and a $40,000 donation similar to what was proposed for the Talkington property.
“We’re certainly open to that,” said Granelli, also representing the White property. “We genuinely want to improve the area.”
The primary traffic impact for the White property would be to Whites Road and the Fort Mill Parkway, its location near enough to the bypass for much impact to N. Dobys Bridge or S. Dobys Bridge roads.