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Buffer rule still needs 'tweaks'

LAKE WYLIE -- The question that began the buffer ordinance overhaul is the same one residents are still asking two years later: How much should be put in writing?

The final public workshop will be held May 18 following a public hearing with York County Council held last week with many of the same residents who came out for the half dozen workshops held since the buffer issue surfaced in 2007. The public hearing date May 4 was rescheduled April 22, according to an e-mail from Dave Pettine, county zoning administrator. While most residents applaud the process that will, pending council approval, rewrite the rules on lakefront properties to make them easier on the county and landowners, a handful of the more than 20 participants still want changes.

"There still may be a few tweaks here and there, but for the most part we've addressed most of the issues," Pettine said.

The buffer rules are designed to promote and protect water quality by leaving natural buffer space near the water's edge. The required 50-foot buffer along Lake Wylie was introduced in the original 2001 buffer ordinance, but new water protection processes would now be allowed, such as the installation of rain gardens, protective landscaping and certain renovations to preexisting buildings within the buffer boundary.

Larry Johnson, who lives on Big Allison Creek, says if the new ordinance allows buildings to be reconstructed on preexisting buildings, which it currently does, then it should allow a new building using the same or a smaller footprint on the property if the project maintains or enhances water quality.

"I'd like to see that put in writing rather than saying we'll consider it on a case-by-case basis," Johnson said.

The issue is important, Johnson said, because his property is taxed as if reselling it would allow for pricey construction, though the current ordinance does not allow for such building.

"What you're doing is you're forcing people to use a building footprint design that was popular many years ago," he said. "That would help the county by allowing a smaller footprint. That would also allow my property to be as valuable as the auditor's office seems to think it is."

Another resident expressed frustration that the new document is not as "user friendly" as promised at the outset of the workshops, and was supposed to take out what was "not pertinent or could hurt landowners." Some residents said not specifying everything that is and is not permissible would allow future county staff too much interpretation.

Duane Christopher, owner of a landscape architecture firm in Rock Hill, says one portion of the document that states "professional landscaping plans should not disturb more than 20 percent of the buffer and must be at least 25 feet from the water" should be reevaluated.

"Twenty percent is simply not enough," he said. "I don't know any other way to say it. I've been saying the same thing for two years."

Christopher argues any landscaping that could have meaningful impact on water quality, such as a retention pond, rain garden or terracing, would disturb more than 20 percent in construction, but, once complete, would help protect the lake from runoff.

Lake Wylie Lakekeeper Ellen Goff, however, worries about his reasoning.

"It's a compelling argument to say in the end, it's going to be better," she said. "But you have to look at how you get there. At the same time when you move it, you're creating a disturbance. Even when the intent is good, it needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis."

Other concerns looked at legal issues and enforcement. Penalties in the new document are "fairly the same" as those from 2001, and at least one issue is not being adhered to in the current ordinance, said John Rinehart of Rinehart Realty.

"It's going to come back and bite somebody," he said of certain surveying requirements. "The real estate community isn't aware of this, and neither are the lawyers."

While several issues remain for discussion, Pettine said an ordinance that could pass council reading needs to be presented, and individual concerns can be expressed both by staff and residents at the public hearing. He also noted many of the concerns on whether cases should be written into the document or considered case-by-case deal with issues not allowed in any form in the existing ordinance.

"We may have provided as much flexibility as we can," Pettine said. "There may be room for more."

Want to go?

York County Council will hold a public hearing for the second reading of the new buffer zoning ordinance at 6 p.m. May 18 (rescheduled from the original May 4 date) at Council Chambers, 6 S. Congress St., York. A third reading, pending approval, would likely be held June 1. To view the draft ordinance, visit yorkcountygov.com.

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