Dobys Bridge connects Fort Mill's past, future

Work was under way on the Massey development on Dobys Bridge Road in Fort Mill on Tuesday.
Work was under way on the Massey development on Dobys Bridge Road in Fort Mill on Tuesday.

FORT MILL -- Named years ago for a local family, Dobys Bridge Road was a twisting, tree-lined, two-lane road that seemed destined for nowhere.

But local folks knew the roughly 7-mile rural stretch was a shortcut to U.S. 521 and on to either Charlotte or Lancaster.

"It may appear to be rural, but it will become a major corridor between 521 and downtown Fort Mill," said Bill Neal, president of LV Realty. LV, which develops communities in York, Lancaster and Union counties, plans cluster homes with open space along the Catawba River off Dobys Bridge.

Small developments have been cropping up on Dobys Bridge farmland for a dozen or more years. Neal was one of three developers who appeared at the Fort Mill Planning Commission's most recent meeting with housing development requests. The trio would bring 1,300 or more additional houses to the Dobys Bridge area. That does not include Clear Springs, whose 25-year plan includes an 865-acre, multi-use development there. The national housing slump is nowhere evident in York County, Neal points out.

"We just don't have the severe ups and downs of other parts of the country," he said. "In the past two, three years, there has been a continuous parade of corporate relocations up and down I-77. With all the jobs coming to the area, that creates a need for everything else."

He compares the Dobys Bridge of the future to S.C. 160, which is bustling with commercial and residential development, citing Fort Mill's impending southern bypass, taxes lower than Charlotte's and the town's reputation for quality schools as additional attractions.

Developability of available land also is a major consideration, said Andy Merriman, Fort Mill's planning director.

"They don't make land," Merriman said. "They're running out of developable space. People have their eye on this area."

More could be arriving from across the country.

"If a national developer is in a poor financial position in Phoenix or Florida, it hinders them there, but this is viewed as a favorable market," Neal explained. "There still is a high level of confidence to do business in the Charlotte area due to the consistent population increase and job growth."

The Massey development is the largest under way, with more than 1,000 homes approved. The developer, GS Carolina, is seeking plat approvals. The homes would sell in the $400,000 to $1 million range, Merriman said.

Dobys Bridge Partners is seeking annexation for Fort Mill's water and sewer services on 65 acres and zoning for 140 or more homes to sell for about $300,000 and up.

LV Realty's project is the 186-acre Preserve at Riverchase, already annexed and zoned for up to one unit per acre. The company, which built the high-end Longview Golf Course community in Charlotte, plans homes designed in timber, craftsman style and selling for $450,000 to $950,000.

Neal lauds its "almost mountainous topography, meadows, vistas of the (Catawba) river."

"It's a piece of property that screams for preservation," Neal said. "It does not deserve the typical residential development: Just put in linear streets and line up all your builders. We want it to have a rustic feel. Homes that speak to the property and its topography."

Folks who have lived along Dobys Bridge for 15, 30 and even more years also appreciate the topography. It's what drew them there.

But, they are realists.

"I know we have to have growth, but, golly, we don't have to blow up all at one time," said Jane Aldrich, who moved there 35 years ago. "We've seen lots of change. I just think they should slow down. They have taken out all the trees."

Across the street in Ardrey Acres, a homeless lot sold for $60,000 recently, she said. She and her husband paid half that for both the lot and house 35 years ago.

She complains about the newfound traffic on the little two-lane road, as does neighbor Charles Blanton, also a 35-year Dobys Bridge resident. There were few houses when he moved there. Now, he says, he's "surrounded."

"I don't think people like spending so much time in the driveway waiting to get out into traffic," he said. "I just think Fort Mill took off a little too quick without preparing for the big change coming."

"It's still a nice place to live," he quickly added. "Our children did well here."

Mildred Epps, a 15-year resident with 12 acres of rolling hills, pasture and a big lake, said there's too much traffic these days traveling Dobys Bridge between Lancaster and Fort Mill.

But she doesn't plan to sell.

"This is beautiful land," she said. "Maybe if somebody offered me $5 million, I'd take it."

Merriman points out that families who farmed there for many years have been "land rich and cash poor." Their money these days is tied up in their children's college education and in their retirement.

"The land might be worth $75,000 an acre," he said. "Joe Smith comes in and says, 'I'll pay you $140,000 an acre.' Some people are paying more than market value because they know it will appreciate."

Farming there is fast becoming a thing of the past, he said.

"The only thing worth growing on this land is houses," Merriman said.