Billion dollar boom. Building Rock Hill, Fort Mill and beyond is big, big business.

New homes are available in Riverwalk, with views of the Catawba River. Rock Hill permitted 245 homes and 12 apartment units. Apartments were down from 308 units in 2017 but on par with 2016, all below the 311 apartments from 2015.
New homes are available in Riverwalk, with views of the Catawba River. Rock Hill permitted 245 homes and 12 apartment units. Apartments were down from 308 units in 2017 but on par with 2016, all below the 311 apartments from 2015.

In a year, developers and property owners brought more than $2 billion worth of new value to the table in York, Lancaster and Chester counties.

That’s more than a quarter of South Carolina’s $9 billion general fund budget this year. It’s more than eight times the current budget for Rock Hill, the fifth largest city in the state.

It’s more than $6 for every known American. It’s 25 cents for every human on the planet.

And that number only includes projects given the green light.

The three counties and municipalities like Rock Hill, Fort Mill and Tega Cay issue all sorts of construction permits. Those permits come with a construction value. Development data shows York County and its municipalities alone tallied more than $1 billion in construction value in a year. Indian Land alone almost put Lancaster County above the half-billion dollar mark.

Adding value

Building permits involve new homes and commercial projects. But they also include demolition, decks and signs. York County last year issued five for tents.

“That’s thousands of permits from people changing retail stores and changing buildings to doing new retail buildings, upfits,” said Rock Hill planning director Bill Meyer. “All the way down to replacing your furnace or putting a deck in your back yard. It’s more than just new construction.”

Those smaller projects can make it tricky to compare the total number of permits, even if the value totals follow the arc of new construction.

“In a city of a 75,000 people, there’s a lot of decks and furnace replacements,” Meyer said.

Building permit value is a strong indicator of how much new activity is coming. Fort Mill annexed or rezoned several properties in the past couple of decades allowing 1,000 or more homes each. Some projects had 20-year build-out plans. Building permits aren’t issued when the development is approved, but when the developer is ready to build.

With large-value projects, the fees and land use process leading up to a building permit application tend to weed out anyone — short of an economic crash — who isn’t prepared.

“If someone goes to the extent of applying for and getting a permit to build a new structure, they intend to follow through on it,” Meyer said.

York County

At more than $680 million in permit value for 2018, York County led the pace among three counties.

York County issued 5,071 permits. Included were more than $422 million in traditional residential construction and almost $33 million more just for townhomes, plus more than $217 million in commercial growth.

The first half of 2018 brought large industrial permits. The latter half had more office, bank and professional building.

One-Year Building Permit Construction Value For 2018 or most recent fiscal year
York County $686,219,333
Lancaster County $557,276,709
Fort Mill $332,257,288
Rock Hill $280,180,895
Chester County $130,983,749
Tega Cay $58,991,573
SOURCE: Compiled

Residential permitting was perhaps the steadiest, which isn’t uncommon among public planning departments. Apartment and large commercial projects tend to pop up at various times, compared to more prolonged residential growth or decline.

York County issued 1,072 new home and 115 townhome permits in 2018.

Lancaster County

A drive in the northern part of U.S. 521 in Lancaster County puts growth on display, even if it’s difficult putting a name to it.

“Because some of Indian Land has a Lancaster address and some a Fort Mill address and some an Indian Land address, it is often difficult to tell where the property is located,” county building official Stephen Yeargin said of permit data.

Still, the trend is obvious.

“Approximately 93 percent of our permits go to the Indian Land area,” Yeargin said. “The commercial has increased in the last few years. Residential has remained robust and strong.”

Lancaster County issued 2,914 building permits in 2018. About 1,450 of them were residential construction, another 278 commercial. In four different months the county issued permits totaling more than $50 million in construction, including a high of more than $84 million in June.

Combined, the permit value for 2018 reached more than $557 million.

Fort Mill

Because Fort Mill charges development impact fees, the town has to give an annual update on how those fees are collected and spent. The update for the most recent fiscal year that ended in September showed more than $332 million in permitted construction value.

That figure is up about 1 percent from the previous year. More than 97 percent of that value came from residential projects. The town issued permits for 788 homes, 255 apartment units and eight new commercial projects.

The split between residential and commercial was more pronounced last year, assistant town manager Chris Pettit told Fort Mill Town Council during the update.

“There was kind of a shift in where those monies were coming in, primarily, and that’s really due to a change in the makeup of development we saw,” he said.

Fort Mill still saw new commercial projects, but on a smaller scale than the prior year.

Rock Hill

Coming off another quarter billion dollar year, the Rock Hill development scene is a combination of industrial and commercial at Riverwalk, Knowledge Park and Legacy Park with some residential near South Pointe High School.

Rock Hill issued 3,525 permits in 2018. The value of those permits came in at more than $280 million. The figure was down almost $37 million from 2017, but was well ahead of at least the two prior years. The 2018 total is up nearly $100 million from 2015 and marked the second straight year permit value topped a quarter billion dollars.

Rock Hill permitted 245 homes and 12 apartment units. Apartments were down from 308 units in 2017 but on par with 2016, all below the 311 apartments from 2015.

“There’s no trend on apartments,” Meyer said. “Apartments come in waves. We’ve been in a wave in the Charlotte region, from about 2014.”

Some trends are intentional. In the early 2000s, Rock Hill approved many more homes, Meyer said, but city leaders concerned with overbuilding the starter home market made changes to encourage other kinds of construction. There’s more of a push toward the urban style with apartments, like downtown Rock Hill has seen in recent years.

An area ripe for growth but without it are Rock Hill’s “opportunity zones.” Rock Hill has four census tracts, as do Lancaster and Chester counties combined, designated as part of a federal program to bring investment in low-income areas. They include downtown areas.

“There are people looking at projects within those census tracts, but nothing has gone through the system yet,” Meyer said.

Chester County

Chester County, like its neighbors in York and Lancaster, permits construction in unincorporated areas. Those permits don’t double dip. So, for instance, York County and Rock Hill aren’t permitting the same project. Chester County totals don’t include permits in its municipalities.

Still, county officials say there were 845 permits issued by the county in 2018 for a total construction value of almost $131 million. Those figures include 44 new single-family home permits and 60 permits either for mobile or modular homes.

Tega Cay

Tega Cay recently instituted impact fees. Its most recent round of elections centered on plans to manage all the people and commerce coming into the city.

Of its 819 permits valued at $58,991,573 in 2018, Tega Cay added 136 new homes and two businesses (Dixie Pig and Yuler Salon).

“We are expecting a very busy spring and summer,” said city manager Charlie Funderburk. “Things have been very slow with new construction since mid- to late September due to the historical amounts of rain we have seen in this area. We believe that once we move into April and May, things will pick back up.”

Before the weather hit, the city was averaging about 14 new homes a month.

“We are anticipating things returning to or exceeding those levels through the summer,” Funderburk said. “We have two commercial projects that have started but are behind schedule due to the rainfalls and a third project we are anticipating starting this summer. All three projects are in Stonecrest.”

Baxter Veterinarian Clinic and a restaurant/retail space in front of Walmart started grading already. A small office park near the city’s Fire Station No. 1 should begin this summer.

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John Marks covers community growth, municipalities and general news mainly in the Fort Mill and York County areas. He began writing for the Herald and sister papers in 2005 and won dozens of South Carolina Press Association and other awards since.
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