New Fort Mill neighborhoods are going to have sidewalks. Where and how far those sidewalks lead, though, isn’t quite as certain.
Fort Mill Town Council is tackling the issue of walkability as it finishes up a unified development ordinance detailing building and other requirements in town. Residents want sidewalks, paths and trails in their neighborhoods.
But not all of them want those walkways connecting to neighbors outside their subdivision.
“To require sidewalks is one thing,” said Mayor Guynn Savage. “To push connectivity on someone is something else. I do not want to enforce that on anyone. I don’t think we ought to force connectivity.”
Council members have several recent examples where connecting trails or sidewalks in neighboring subdivisions — often a goal for municipal planning departments — didn’t work out well. Springfield residents spoke out strongly against a proposed golf cart path connecting Carolina Orchards to their golf course and other amenities in the area. About 30 residents from Kimbrell Crossing, a gated community, opposed connections at the most recent town planning commission meeting.
Other neighborhoods like WhiteGrove have neighborhoods coming in beside them, with questions on possible connections. Often one neighborhood could connect to a park or school, through another.
Council members are thinking through their role in connecting residents, while also understanding how important walkways are to those residents.
“Huge demand, desire for sidewalks,” said Diane Dil, assistant town planner. Not everybody, but it’s so far ahead. It’s a big desire for a majority of the community.”
Joe Cronin, town planning director, said the first couple of weeks each school year he will get calls asking why there aren’t more sidewalks near certain schools. So many residents want sidewalks that the new ordinance looks to require them for most residential and commercial projects.
“The default (now) is sidewalks aren’t required unless the planning commission calls for them,” Cronin said. “With this new ordinance, the default shifts.”
The ordinance provides building standards for new development, but isn’t retroactive. So existing Fort Mill neighborhoods won’t get new sidewalks because of it.
“You’ve got to put it in when these developments are built,” said Dennis Pieper, town manager.
York County doesn’t require sidewalks. Older communities in Fort Mill like Whiteville Park don’t have them. Meaning there are spots beside and between communities with sidewalks, that don’t have them.
“We don’t have any of that,” said Councilwoman Trudie Heemsoth who lives in Whiteville Park, “but we have plenty of walkers.”
New developments coming in will have sidewalks paid for by their developers, not the town. Yet, Savage said, she isn’t sure all Fort Mill residents will understand how the process works. She doesn’t want longtime residents who have paid taxes here for years thinking it’s the town building sidewalks or other features required by the new ordinance just for new residents.
“The perception is reality here,” Savage said.
Connectivity in question
The larger question remains connectivity. If the town requires it, residents like those in Springfield and Kimbrell Crossing may have something they don’t want forced on them. If the town doesn’t, there is little reason to expect developers to connect with one another and make them happen, officials said. So neighborhoods that might want to be connected to schools, parks and each other, won’t be.
Then again, had sidewalks along major road frontages been mandated when Nation Ford High School and Springfield were built, a shared path would have been in place for Carolina Orchards residents without having to go through Springfield.
Councilman Chris Moody, who lives in WhiteGrove and understands concern about new neighborhoods wanting to connect with existing ones, said he is fine with neighborhood connections but doesn’t want the town dictating it to residents.
“As long as two neighborhoods can get together and decide without the town roping them in there making them do it, I’m fine with that,” he said.
The sidewalk change, like others in the new development ordinance, isn’t something residents are likely to notice the morning after it passes. But in time they will see changes.
“Planning is not an immediate thing,” Cronin said. “Sometimes it takes 20 or 30 years to see a plan come together.”
Savage agreed it can take time, but said her group needs to be aware of present day concerns when planning for that future.
“I’m not a fan of settling issues for 20 or 30 years from now and not taking care of this week’s issue,” she said.