York County Council doesn’t want to put too much on the plates of its planning staff. By focusing the work, the thought goes, staff can get around to getting it done.
“We see bright shiny objects and we chase that bright shiny object every time,” said Councilman Michael Johnson, likening his group to golden retriever puppies.
“It’s time to set priorities on a planning level so we will quit chasing some of these bright shiny objects and actually start accomplishing something.”
On Oct. 2, council asked for planning staff to come back in two weeks with a prioritized list of how to tackle development issues. Johnson wants concrete numbers instead of “this kind of amorphous list of things we’d like to accomplish one day,” which he feels council has now.
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“We have a whole bunch of wants, and there’s no real direction on how we’re going to get it accomplished,” he said.
By prioritizing planning, accountability could increase. Items on the list will be scrutinized.
“It will be a signal to you that we’re going to fund it, and that we want it done, and we want timelines attached to it so it can be done,” Johnson told planners.
Planning concerns are of particular interest in high-growth areas like Lake Wylie, Fort Mill and Tega Cay. Residential growth is
Bill Shanahan, county manager, said the ongoing UD rezonings to get rid of an outdated district, thoroughfare plan, watershed district and studies on stormwater and impact fees are de facto top priorities now “because we’re actually working on them and we have funding for them.”
Council recently decided to hire a consultant to look at zoning uses by district, including how and when to allow concrete plants, wineries, special events facilities, outdoor recreation and temporary use festivals.
The problem for planners isn’t a lack of possibilities.
“We just keep adding to it and adding to it and adding to it,” said Councilman Chad Williams. “And it’s very hard to get anything done when you just keep putting stuff in the wheelbarrow.”
Councilman Robert Winkler would like to see staff and council weed through items that may not be the best use of time.
“A lot of these things are things that one council member has put on that list, and it’s not a priority for the other six of us,” he said.
Chairman Britt Blackwell agreed.
“There’s been so many individual requests driving the horse and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” he said. “Each time we do this and say, oh, but go back and do some other priority listing for us, it takes time away from what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Councilwoman Allison Love said many items on the planning list now are “reactions to things that have popped up.” Some may have come from a single conversation here or there. She would like to see a more definite list of projects to aid in growth management.
“This is a building list, but things aren’t getting checked off of it,” Love said.
Councilwoman Christi Cox wants to nail down which items will help manage growth, which will help even out the tax base and generally serve the county well.
“To me, that’s a different list than what this project list is,” Cox said.
Council members say they want to be be part of listing and ranking priorities, but they need to rely on staff.
“I am not an expert in planning,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if one thing is so much more important it needs to be done before the other one or it doesn’t make sense.”
Williams wants some council input, but believes planning staff is there to do a job they should be allowed to do.
“What I would really like to see is, as a professional planning staff, this is what we need to do to move this county forward,” he said.