Fort Mill seeing double in plans

FORT MILL -- Residents could see more shopping opportunities near the S.C. 160 and U.S. 21 Bypass under an annexation request unveiled Wednesday.

Clear Springs Development paved the way for additional Fort Mill commercial and residential growth with an application for annexation of 2,800 acres into the town.

Leroy Springs plans to file an annexation and zoning application for another 2,200 acres in a few weeks and remain recreational. The Anne Springs Close Greenway comprises about 1,800 acres of that land.

The some 5,000 combined acres would double the town's size, said Mayor Charles Powers.

If approved, development would begin with commercial property in the Kingsley and Springfield communities, a Clear Springs spokesman said.

The developments are designed to provide commercial tax revenues to exceed demands for the services they and residential homes would require, company and town officials said.

Miley, Gallo & Associates, an economic and financial consulting firm with offices in Columbia and Research Triangle Park, N.C., estimates the 2,880 acres would increase the town and the school district's tax base by more than $2.5 billion when completed. They estimate net revenues over expenditures for the town over 30 years at $101.6 million. School district benefits from taxes and impact fees during the same period are estimated at $138.8 million: $56.7 million for operating and $82.1 million for capital improvements.

"This development is going to happen whether or not it is in the city," Powers told media and local officials at a news conference Wednesday. "The commercial development will make Fort Mill's financial health remain stable."

The Springs Co. is the holding company for all the Close family business entities. Clear Springs Development and Leroy Springs, a nonprofit company, are two of them.

The Springs Co. will "emphasize attracting quality jobs into Fort Mill," said President William Taylor. "We're not a developer parachuting in for the first time. Look at our track record."

'Critical' for schools

Commercial and industrial mixed use with residential is particularly "critical" for Fort Mill schools, he said. "It's increasingly important to the school system in view of recent legislation," he said.

Officials say the Fort Mill school district, considered the fastest-growing in the state, has an immediate need for more schools. Like other York County school officials, they are anxious about the new Property Tax Relief law which replaces homeowners' school operation taxes with a statewide 1-cent sales tax that the state will distribute. Commercial property will still be subject to local school operating taxes. School officials fear that, if they are able to build the number of new schools necessary, without sufficient operating revenue they might not have enough money to run them.

The proposed development is expected to bring more than 1,600 students into the district over the next 20 years, said Martha Kinard, chairwoman of the Fort Mill school board.

She called the plans "smart growth."

"Some developers come in and get out as quickly as possible," Kinard said. "This adds to the quality of life. We're fortunate they looked at the net economic benefit. I think we also will benefit from a local government body controlling it."

Clear Springs will be the "master developer."

"Other developers we sell to will be subject to our agreements with the town," said Donald Killoren, Clear Springs chairman and CEO.

The town and developer plan a number of community meetings where townspeople can ask questions.

If annexation and zoning is approved, the first obvious result likely will be on 626 acres beside the proposed hospital on S.C. 160 and behind it along U.S. 21 Bypass. Commercial businesses such as restaurants and retail shopping would be at the entrances with a "spine road" running to "high-end, low-density" residences, Taylor said.

About 55 acres of commercially-zoned property would be across U.S. 21 Bypass and run up the bypass and along S.C. 160. About 113 acres Clear Springs owns directly across S.C. 160 is already zoned and annexed and would include 400,000 square feet of commercial development and 465 residential units, including some multifamily housing for senior citizens.

"We have been trying to get them to come into the city limits," Powers said. "This growth should pay for itself. This is about the Close family caring for the town of Fort Mill."