City Council Monday night approved the first of two needed readings to annex the more than 120-acre mixed use Windhaven project off Gold Hill Road by a 3-2 vote.
Council members voting for approval said they were swayed by recent changes in the plan, including a reduction in housing density. Those opposed said they might now consider changing their minds.
“Three weeks ago I was a ‘no,’” said Councilwoman Dottie Hersey, joined by Councilwoman Jennifer Stalford and Mayor George Sheppard in favor of annexation. “A 100 percent no. It was too much density.”
Original plans had more than 700 residences, including hundreds of apartments. The latest plan has no more than 400 residences, a mix of upscale townhomes, patio homes and single-family. It includes land for a new middle school, pending a final contract with the Fort Mill School District. Windhaven will donate 20 acres to the city for recreation. It includes up to 150,000 square feet of commercial space on seven acres.
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“Things have changed a lot over the last few weeks,” Hersey said, “and I’m seeing a lot more positives.”
Councilmen David O’Neal and Ryan Richard – both were elected to their initial terms last fall after campaigning for a slowdown in residential growth – voted against annexation. Yet, O’Neal called Windhaven a “great project” that unfortunately sits on Gold Hill Road, where traffic already is a major issue. O’Neal said he’s “not there yet,” but could be further swayed in favor of the plan.
“I would like to hear from other people before I make such a monumental decision,” he said.
Council heard the most updated plan just prior to casting its vote Monday. Council members say they will process the proposal prior to final reading, and expects many residents will, too.
Richard said Windhaven could be the right project but at the wrong time, asking the developer to consider a delay to allow roads and other infrastructure to catch up in the area. Plans are to finish the first homes in 2018 with a five-year build-out. Told a long or indefinite delay likely would kill the project, Richard cast his vote based on resident feedback thus far.
“Ultimately, 80 percent of everyone I talked to say ‘no, not right now,’” he said.
Developer Kent Olson said he worked heavily with city planning staff to submit a project that fits the comprehensive plan.
“It really has become a fantastic product, and it really does fit with our comprehensive plan for smart growth,” Stalford said.
Residents on Monday took varying stances on Windhaven. One said planning is more about demographics and statistics than finding solutions that “fit into what we need.” Another was concerned voting down Windhaven would be a missed opportunity, as “things happen and life may pass us by.”
Amy Parham said she initially signed a petition against Windhaven. The updated plan still isn’t one she agrees with totally, but she sees it in a much softer light.
“What I saw tonight made me feel a lot better,” she said.
If the land remains in the county, there is no guarantee another developer may not come with something like the earlier versions of Windhaven, Parham said.
“If we’re going to have growth, let’s have more control over it, and that’s what it sounds like this is,” she said.
Frank McCollum, who began a petition against Windhaven, said the financial impact needs to be considered. He believes it will cost the city more to provide public services to Windhaven than the city will receive in taxes from Windhaven.
“I just think it should be a neighbor of Tega Cay, and not a part of Tega Cay,” McCollum said.
Charlie Funderburk, city manager, said financial impacts are part of a large decision like Windhaven. Tax base impact and public services provided have to be considered. Then, there are unknown impacts. Like when the city voted to purchase Carolina Water Service in 2014 after residents complained of sewage spills and poor service.
The city could do it in part because it already had a utility service, thanks to adding the Lake Shore development.
“Lake Shore got us into the utility business,” Funderburk said.
Past large residential additions, like Lake Shore and the Stonecrest area, have helped the city add features such as its golf course. They also require more police and fire protection, among other needs.
“Not only is it a growth decision,” Funderburk said. “It’s a financial decision for the city as well.”