Developer scales back subdivision

The developer planning a massive housing subdivision near the Catawba River has halted talks with the city of Rock Hill and York County, saying it will move ahead with a smaller project that doesn't require deals with local governments.

Newland Communities says it will pursue developing 1,800 acres of wooded property using the zoning already in place. Under that approach, Newland couldn't build the 2,700-home subdivision originally envisioned, but several hundred homes would be allowed.

Those homes would rely on wells and septic tanks rather than services provided by the city.

"We still believe the larger project is a better use of the property," said Larry Burton, Newland's Mid-Atlantic vice president. "But the county, given what they've said, we're taking a step back. We're halting our efforts right now just to study the byright zoning."

The controversy over Newland has become a flash point in the debate over the proper pace of growth in York County. It has also overshadowed efforts to rally support for a $120 million plan to extend Dave Lyle Boulevard into Lancaster County.

Newland's involvement in pushing for the Dave Lyle extension may have hurt the road's chances, Burton said in a letter to York County Council Chairman Buddy Motz.

"We wish to express our regret over any unhelpful actions or inactions by Newland Communities that may have caused distractions in the consideration of the very clear merits of the extension," Burton told Motz in the letter.

Supporters tout a longer Dave Lyle Boulevard as an economic boon that would open up Rock Hill to Lancaster County's booming panhandle area and give drivers another way to reach Charlotte. Their hope is that the state will agree to pick up much of the price tag.

Newland pledged $8 million of its own, but that move stirred perceptions that a longer road is mainly about helping a developer. The extended Dave Lyle would run near the housing development and through woods that area conservationists want to protect.

"We're looking to grab $120 million to subsidize somebody's development," County Councilman Rick Lee said in July.

"It's a developer's road at this point," said neighbor Betty Rankin, an outspoken critic of Newland's plans. "There was no mention of Dave Lyle until Newland came in. If it had been a priority (before), it would've already been built."

Now, Motz hopes the county can talk about the Dave Lyle project on its merits. "That will relieve a little bit of the pressure they were applying," he said of Newland's decision.

Newland to go it alone?

Burton insists Newland will develop the land regardless of what happens with Dave Lyle Boulevard. As many as 900 homes would be allowed under county zoning, but some land sits on floodplain unsuitable for building and other acreage would be needed for roads.

The company has said all along it wants to build an environmentally friendly community that will include green spaces and public access to the river.

"I can tell you we will develop the property, absolutely 100 percent," Burton said. "It's just right now, it's too early to tell how."

Some local officials wonder whether Newland intends to sit on the property in hopes the extension will win approval sometime in the next year. Last year, it beat out a $13.2 million bid from a group of local governments, conservationists, hunters and scouts for 1,000 acres of former Bowater seed orchard property.

"He's paid a lot of money for a piece of property to only put 900 homes on it," Lee said. "Only if he's building big, expensive homes (would it make sense). I don't know if the market's there right now."

In his letter, Burton says he will "look forward to continuing our discussions in the future." But no one from the city or county has officially responded to Newland's latest move, leaving a cloud of uncertainty on both sides.

"I'm not sure we've seen the last act in this play," Lee said.