Van Wyck is the first would-be Lancaster Panhandle community to file for incorporation, setting the stage for state-level decisions unlike any in recent memory.
Van Wyck residents filed with the South Carolina Secretary of State’s office March 24 to create a new town. The move came in response to ongoing efforts in Indian Land, where a group of residents wants to incorporate a much larger area that would include Van Wyck. The Indian Land group began campaigning and collecting signatures months ago.
Van Wyck, with far fewer residents than the rest of the Panhandle, collected enough signatures from registered voters at a single meeting.
Shannon Wiley, general counsel for the Secretary of State’s office, said Wednesday only the Van Wyck petition has been submitted. Her group will review it and pass it along to a joint legislative committee on incorporation, which then will recommend in favor of or against setting a referendum on the question of creating a new town.
“They will set a meeting date on that,” Wiley said. “We obviously don’t know when that will be.”
Community members in Van Wyck are confident.
“They have a checklist and they will check the items off that you have to meet,” said Rosa Sansbury, community organizer for the potential town. “They will get back to us if we need to fine-tune some things.”
Before a potential municipality can apply for that status, an area must be defined, including the number of people who would become residents. That data sets the number of registered voters, and a 15 percent threshold for petition signatures. The data also helps make the case for incorporation while gathering signatures, showing costs and new revenue based on taxes, franchise fees and other sources.
Incorporating is rare. Only two have come in the past few decades. However, both Van Wyck and Indian Land are looking to become the latest to incorporate. Some Lake Wylie residents are looking into the idea, too. All are high-growth areas where residents want more control on local land use decisions.
Van Wyck residents say they mainly want to incorporate to keep separate from the Indian Land plan, where they would have just one of five new county council seats and could see their land developed at a much more rapid pace than if they maintain local control.
If Van Wyck incorporates, it changes the boundaries, demographics and economics of the Indian Land plan drastically. Even state incorporation experts have said they aren’t sure how the joint legislative group will handle two incorporation petitions at once, when they overlay.
“I’m not sure how the joint committee is going to handle that,” Wiley said. “I don’t know how they will handle competing incorporations. It will be interesting.”
A state mandate of 300 people in a square mile meant Van Wyck backers needed help from the state to draw a map where incorporation is an option. The area being considered is a rectangle in the Van Wyck, Rebound and Hickory roads area. The local post office isn’t included, but it sits right across the street from land that is.
“Indian Land has so many people where they could just take a magic marker and draw a circle around the entire Panhandle,” Sansbury said. “We couldn’t.”
Sansbury’s horse farm isn’t even included, but she hopes to apply for annexation “the first day” a town is up and running.
“Right now we’re kind of in a holding pattern,” she said. “We do have a good strong list of people who want to be annexed into the incorporated area as soon as possible.”
There is a big difference, Sansbury said, in a new Van Wyck annexing quickly beyond its borders and an Indian Land plan growing by taking in Van Wyck from the initial vote.
“Annexation is all voluntary, whereas incorporation is not,” she said.
Anyone within the boundaries of a new Van Wyck or Indian Land would get a vote on whether to incorporate, but the most total votes throughout the incorporation limits would decide the contest. That means Van Wyck residents could overwhelmingly vote against being drawn into the Indian Land plan and still be included if enough residents farther up the Panhandle vote in favor.
Van Wyck residents are waiting to find out their next steps, holding community meetings and making their case why incorporating best serves them and their neighbors.
“It’s just great to see so many people wanting to be part of the community,” Sansbury said.
No one with the pro-Indian Land incorporation group could be reached for comment.