RHEDC gives endorsement to Dave Lyle extension plan

The Dave Lyle Boulevard extension proposal landed a nod of confidence Friday when the Rock Hill Development Corp. lent its support to the controversial project.

But the group tempered its enthusiasm for the road that would connect eastern York County to U.S. 521 in Lancaster County, saying careful planning must happen to ensure the Catawba River and the surrounding areas don't become victims to suburban sprawl. The group of Rock Hill business and community leaders, meeting for most of the day Friday during an annual retreat, also noted extending S.C. 161 from Cherry Road to Dave Lyle should be labeled a priority, too.

The decision to endorse a Dave Lyle extension followed several hours of discussion among the group, planners and other experts. RHEDC leaders agreed to make advocating for the extension project -- a plan originally proposed 20 years ago that has returned to the table -- one of their goals for the upcoming year.

"We need to get County Council behind the project," said John Rinehart, a Rock Hill Realtor. "We have an opportunity to move forward on the project."

The $120 million extension that would likely be financed by state money calls for Dave Lyle Boulevard to be lengthened about four miles from Red River Road across the Catawba River to U.S. 521 near Sun City Carolina Lakes, just south of Indian Land. Proponents believe the road would connect Rock Hill to other Charlotte communities such as Ballantyne, Indian Land, and Union County, N.C., without taking the round-a-bout trail of Interstate 77 north to Charlotte and then east on I-485, or through the town of Fort Mill.

"Other cities in the Charlotte region have connectivity, we do not," Rinehart said.

'Good for the economy'

The road also may unlock development east of I-77, an area city planners have targeted for new growth. Rob Youngblood, director of the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the extension would be a boon to the Rock Hill Galleria, improve access to downtown Rock Hill, York Technical College and Winthrop University and relieve congestion on S.C. 160 and S.C. 5, the only eastern-bound roads crossing the Catawba River in York County.

"Building roads is good for the economy," he said.

Trample the environment?

But there is some concern about how the road might impact development. The road would slice through a rural area of the county near the Catawba Indian Reservation and some worry it could grow into a stretch similar to Cherry Road, lined with strip malls, housing developments and unsightly industry.

Newland Communities has already targeted the area for a large-scale housing development, causing some to question motivation for the extension. But RHEDC leaders said their decision was made without considering the Newland development.

"The fastest way to destroy land-based conservation is road construction. But maybe that's what we want in this county," quipped conservationist Harry Dalton, noting the eco-tourism attractions that would be lost if the area became another piece of suburbia. Dalton said the road itself won't destroy the natural area around the Catawba, but he worries spin-off growth will.

Finding balance

Most people at the meeting Friday agreed compromise is needed. The group reached a consensus that it would advocate for the road to be built as a thoroughfare, but also ask that extensive rezoning and planning happen to make sure the surrounding areas aren't trampled.

"We need to find the balance between residential, commercial and conservation," said Barre Mitchell, RHEDC quality of life committee chairman. "We think conservation is extremely important, and growth and conservation aren't mutually exclusive. ... We can have our cake and eat it, too."