Changes to buffer rules delayed

LAKE WYLIE -- An ordinance designed to clarify Lake Wylie's buffer rules only muddied the water for many area residents, prompting York County to hold off on any changes until next year.

More than 100 Lake Wylie residents packed the York County Council chambers Tuesday for an emotional and spirited meeting to explain potential changes in the county's ordinance that requires a 50-foot buffer along the lake.

"Everyone has a vested stake in this," said Susan Britt, planning and development director for York County. "We want to make sure the public voice is heard.

"We want to do this with the greatest voice and have a consensus on what we do," she said.

Proposed new rules would not allow new structures -- even repairs or renovations to existing structures -- to be built within the 50-foot buffer that stretches inland from the high water mark. Another change may limit special exceptions, which residents can apply for in certain circumstances for construction within the buffer.

John Rinehart Sr. hosted about 40 Lake Wylie homeowners at his cabin before to the meeting to help gain interest and get the community involved. Mass e-mails to the Allison Creek Homeowners Association also were sent, drawing a large number of interested residents. Yet, many of the property owners attended the meeting to oppose having a buffer at all, some not knowing that a 50-foot buffer already is in place and that the proposal would only tweak it.

"There was a lot of misinformation," said former Lake Wylie Marine Commissioner Mark Sleeper, who owns three lakefront properties and is actively involved with the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation. "Most of the negative comments were out of a lack of understanding. They weren't from a lack of passion."

Some called any buffer an infringement on property rights, while others believe it's a useful tool for improving water quality.

David Coone, an area real estate agent, said more than 2,000 properties in York County will be impacted by any change to buffer rules. Coone's main concern with the proposed changes involves grandfathering existing structures within the buffer.

"The thing that alarms me most about the proposed changes was some of the language they used about installation of any new structures and improvements," Coone said.

Coon said there should be no exceptions.

"I think the rules are the rules, and it shouldn't depend on what you can go and convince somebody," he said.

The proposal, which passed two County Council votes before being tabled Monday, was admittedly confusing, Britt said.

"It was presented prematurely to council; not thoroughly thought out," she said.

Ultimately, the meeting was positive despite being "emotionally charged," Britt said.

The next steps include planning workshops to be held in November and December, with drafted changes presented to the public in January. A revised version also will be presented in February. The ordinance could return to the County Council's agenda in April.

Many residents hope a large and fair sample of landowners in the area will be selected to help the county during the workshops.

"The focus in these workshops are education, not legislation," Britt said.

Sleeper, who believes new developers in the area would be impacted much more than existing homeowners, said he hopes a balanced compromise will be reached.