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York Co. Council to staff: Start over on development rule changes

Following intense public opposition that at times included open criticism of county staff members, the York County Council moved to “abolish” new draft guidelines for development and start over.

The tension peaked at the council’s Monday night meeting in York when state Rep. Ralph Norman, a Rock Hill developer and vocal critic of the guidelines, told York County Manager Jim Baker he had “no confidence” that Baker ever meant to include developers in discussions of revisions in a “fair” way.

When Norman accused Baker of keeping someone from speaking at a council meeting, Baker replied tersely that Norman was “lying” and opted not to comment further.

The county has been working since 2009 to revise its collection of laws governing development, known as the Unified Development Ordinance, or UDO. The laws govern commercial and residential development in York County.

The purpose of the revision is to streamline development guidelines to make them more “user-friendly” and to update outdated rules, county staff members have said.

The collection of codes outlines rules for storm water management, erosion, zoning, and building guidelines. They incorporate state and federal rules and standards of the International Builders Code, county staff have said.

About 90 percent of the existing laws carried over into the revised collection of codes, Baker said.

The county held a series of meetings with builders and developers last year to receive input. But shortly after, county staff members started hearing criticisms that not enough was done to include builders and developers.

Norman worked with the county to communicate with other developers to get copies of the codes and collect feedback for the county.

The county received some feedback and sent written responses in return.

That process stalled midway as opposition to the collection of codes grew, Baker said.

Staff members learned of an online video from a member of the Home Builders Association of York County and a petition circulating urging people to oppose the guidelines.

A crowd of about 120 people filled the council chambers Monday and spilled over into the hallway. Most of them were there to oppose the collection of laws.

More than a dozen people addressed the council, arguing that the guidelines threaten personal property rights and reflect government overreach.

Builder Michael O’Neil urged the council to reject the revisions.

“We’re not here to throw up shoddy houses and run rampant” over the county, he said.

The changes would contribute to a “sheer loss of time” in meeting new requirements and more money spent on permitting fees, he said.

Lake Wylie resident Margarett Blackwell said the laws are “York County government taking away private property rights.”

One of her critiques included a rule dictating where radio antennas and satellite dishes must be placed on a building. She said the professionals installing the equipment are better suited to determine where to put them than county staff members.

Norman pointed out more than 30 pages of written comments from developers and staff responses. He critiqued the responses for not being clear and for requiring more than necessary from builders and developers.

Norman criticized the guidelines for giving staff members “carte blanche control” to make changes to development plans.

A common complaint was that the revision gives the planning and development director “discretion” in granting approvals, which critics said made it difficult to plan projects.

Councilman Chad Williams later said granting discretion to department heads would “help developers” by speeding up approvals. Now, some decisions have to go back before the planning commission before developers can proceed.

Speakers called for the county to start over and include developers as well as ordinary citizens in efforts to revise the guidelines.

Councilman Curwood Chappell made the motion to “abolish the UDO lock, stock and barrel.” Council members voted 4-3 to start over.

Councilman Bruce Henderson seconded the motion, telling the audience, “You are the people; you are the ultimate boss.”

The UDA is “a violation of property rights; it’s all about population control, limit people’s ability to move about, maybe even eliminate the gasoline engine, limit or eliminate gun ownership – control, control, control, and I am absolutely against it.”

Before the vote, Councilman David Bowman said he knows of developers and builders who “aren’t ready to throw this thing out.”

Baker said he too knew of developers who “desperately want” some of the proposed changes, but they didn’t “mobilize” to show their support, he said.

Throughout the discussion, Chairman Britt Blackwell called for order in the chambers, telling the audience that outbursts of clapping and wooing were interrupting the “people’s business” and might discourage others from feeling comfortable speaking out.

The audience responded critically, with some blaming Blackwell for taking up time.

On the vote, Blackwell broke a 3-3 tie, saying that the council and staff members are “dedicated to making things better.”

But, he said, “I’m certainly accepting of the fact that this is not what we want.”

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