Fort Mill's growth strains town's public spaces

FORT MILL -- By next spring, Fort Mill town staff hopes to add a recently approved public park to its four existing and heavily-used parks. But even this additional 1.5-acre multipurpose field off Self and Calhoun streets might not be enough to meet recreation demands.

General planning goals call for 1 acre of park space per every thousand residents. The town of Fort Mill has about 4.5 acres of parks. That would have been fine in 1990, when the town had just under 5,000 residents. Now, 9,450 people live within town limits.

"We need (parks)," Fort Mill parks and recreation Director Brown Simpson said. "We need them right now."

The town owns another 10 acres of designated park land adjacent to Doby Bridge Park that could be developed within three years, giving the town about 16 total acres of parks. The question is how to plan ahead as growth and land prices continue skyrocketing, town officials said.

Because land is at a premium, the town has to "kind of take what we can get and develop parks where we can get it," town planner Andy Merriman said.

Park shortages don't seem like a priority compared with overcrowded schools or understaffed fire departments, Simpson said, but that doesn't mean they're not important.

"Having nice outdoor facilities and parks, that's a part of the quality of life people expect," he said.

There are no publicly operated parks in the unincorporated areas with a Fort Mill address, where much of the community's growth is occurring. York County only manages one park, Ebenezer Park in Rock Hill, as well as a trail on Nanny's Mountain.

Developers may build their own parks operated by homeowners associations, but the county doesn't monitor them, said Tony Huggins, Ebenezer Park superintendent. The county could definitely use more park space, Huggins said, noting how Ebenezer's camp grounds and shelters fill up every weekend.

Simpson said Fort Mill's fields and shelters are also often booked daily.

"We have come a long ways in the last three years," Simpson said, referring to more than $500,000 in improvements the town made to its four existing parks, such as new bathrooms, basketball courts and playground equipment.

... The challenge is always funding."

Simpson said he hoped an accommodations and hospitality tax passed last year will provide some money for parks.

The new multipurpose fields and space near Doby Bridge Park should provide relief for the next couple of years, Simpson said, but "there always could be more." It will be difficult to stay ahead of the town's growth rate, he said.

"This town has changed a lot in the past 10 years," he said, "and this town is going to change a lot more in the next 10 years."

Fort Mill Proposed Parks

1.5 acres of multipurpose fields for youth baseball and soccer on the town's former water filter plant site off of Self and Calhoun streets. The Town Council recently approved funding improvements, which could cost about $350,000. About $75,000 of that will come from donations. The goal is to open the park next spring.

10 acres the town owns adjacent to Doby Bridge Park that could be used for weekend baseball tournaments and park staff offices, among other things. The goal is to open it in two to three years.