Consultants will help shape the next land use plan for York County, though not everybody is happy about it.
York County Council voted 4-3 Sept. 2 to approve a $189,000 contract with Land Design of Charlotte for a 10-year update to the 2025 comprehensive plan. The plan, which was approved in 2004, advises Council and staff on what types of homes, businesses or other uses best suit areas of the county.
Planning Director Dave Pettine, who is leaving the county this month, ranked the upcoming document atop Council’s priority list.
“We are at a tipping point with growth in a lot of different areas,” Pettine said.
Councilmen Bruce Henderson, Joe Cox and Curwood Chappell voted against the contract. Henderson has “major reservations” in bringing in outside groups to plan for York County.
“I was hoping that we could develop this at a more local level,” he said. “We are very capable among our own citizenry, from developers to staff to just general citizens, and do-it-yourself types.”
Cox said consultants come in and “take little bits and pieces” from plans elsewhere, and aren’t as adaptive as local planners would be. He worries, based on past experiences, that the half dozen or so community meetings wouldn’t incorporate enough local input.
“Some of the input that got inputed never got to where it was on a piece of paper,” Cox said. “So I don’t put a lot of faith in that one.”
Chappell, who represents part of Fort Mill, said this country wasn’t built on “somebody looking at every nail I drive and every plank I saw,” and that he favors reduced regulation in the plan. He’d also like to keep money for the project close to home.
“York County has the same type person right here in this county that’s paid taxes here, makes his living here, goes to church here, good to his neighbors and do unto others as he’d want them to do unto him,” Chappell said.
Other Council members took a different view.
“Our staff can do this,” said Councilman Michael Johnson, who represents Tega Cay and part of Fort Mill.
“The question is, in a county that is growing as quickly as we are and a county that is having the issues we’re having, what other parts of the county will suffer because we are now diverting resources just to this?”
Johnson said the $189,000 or more would be used to hire temporary employees whose jobs would be terminated following the project, if staff had to tackle the plan alone.
“Either way, we’re going to spend the money, unfortunately,” he said. “I don’t see any way around spending this money.”
As for needing the plan, backers of the contract pointed to state law.
“It’s not a debatable issue,” Johnson said. “It’s not something we can say we’re not going to do. We’re mandated by state law to do this.”
Councilman Chad Williams, whose district includes a piece of Fort Mill, said “one reason it’s a state requirement is it’s a good idea.”
The Charlotte firm with local experience is about as good as the county is going to get, he said.
“It’s only as good as how you write it,” Williams said. “If we’re going to have one, we might as well make it the best way possible.”
Pettine’s departure after almost 10 years leaves the county with six planners on staff. An in-house plan likely would take twice as long as with a consultant, he said, and would mean three more staff positions at more than the consultant contract charges. The consultant has expertise in areas like economic development that planning staff, many of home have not worked on a comprehensive plan before, wouldn’t.
“You can get out of your comfort zone pretty quickly,” Pettine said.
Councilman William “Bump” Roddey called the comprehensive plan “too big of a task” for county staff and volunteers to tackle alone.
“I don’t think we want to put this just on our staff and the citizens,” he said.
A concern among dissenting Council members is that local input would take a back seat to outside influence.
“We at a local level can make better decisions as to what how this thing should be put together and what should be in it,” Henderson said.
Johnson agreed that the plan isn’t going to work without input from the people who live here. Residents in Lake Wylie, Fort Mill, Tega Cay and other hot spots for growth have spoken out in recent months called for zoning, building density and other changes. The Bonum Road area of Lake Wylie is home to more than a dozen residents who have addressed Council.
“When you are not involved in this process, you wake up with a potential Bonum Road. You wake up with a Highway 160,” Johnson said, referring to an often-clogged main artery through Fort Mill.
Other municipalities must be involved, too.
“We can not have a comp plan that doesn’t agree with what Rock Hill, Tega Cay, Fort Mill’s are doing,” said County Manager Bill Shanahan. “All of us have to be working together around this. It won’t work any other way.”
The plan come up with by staff, consultants and community input still will need Council approval. It should take about a year to complete. Even then, Pettine said, it will be used to guide rather than force or deny growth.
“It’s not a regulatory tool,” he said. “It’s not a tool that will put more restrictions in place. It’s vision for the county to more forward.”
Another resident concern
In other business, Council voted to solicit bids for a firm to examine residency, voting patterns, vehicle ownership, real estate ownership and other factors to determine who should pay what taxes.
“Basically all we’re doing is making sure that the folks, the citizens of York County that pay taxes, are actually paying the taxes they’re supposed to pay,” Shanahan said.
The county would pay the firm a percentage of the tax fraud cases it discovers. For instance, it could find homeowners paying the resident rate but they live outside the county or state. A $250,000 owner-occupied home in Rock Hill pays $2,100 in taxes annually, less than half of the $5,725 a non-owner occupied home owner pays for the same property.
According to county information, nine counties in South Carolina use or have used a similar firm. Those counties recouped between $355,000 and $3.1 million in additional tax revenue from the service.