Council gives initial OK to more walkable downtown district

FORT MILL -- In a move to create a more pedestrian-friendly area, the Fort Mill Town Council officially approved new standards for property zoned highway commercial along Tom Hall Street on Monday night.

Town leaders want to promote commercial and retail uses conducive to a vibrant downtown business district, improve the streetscape and enhance foot traffic between businesses.

The overlay district prohibits certain business uses that are allowed on properties zoned highway commercial elsewhere in town, such as research, development and testing laboratories, convenience stores, coin laundry services, car washes, repair garages, warehouses, dealerships and check-cashing establishments, among other uses.

The vote to approve the district was 4-1, with Councilman Grady Ervin opposed. Council members Guynn Savage and Waddell Gibson were absent.

Ervin said he is against restricting business uses in the corridor. "If it's a legal, moral and ethical business I can't go against it," Ervin said before one of two votes related to the district.

The district stretches from the intersection of Tom Hall and Unity streets to Springfield Parkway, and includes properties that front Dobys Bridge Road near its intersection with Tom Hall Street.

In February, the town established a de facto moratorium on commercial development over that stretch, and included property zoned highway commercial along Elliott Street.

The moratorium was officially approved in June for a six-month period. At the time, the move angered a few people who had recently purchased property in the area with plans to build a car dealership and a dry cleaning business.

Those plans were put on hold, and at least one property owner threatened legal action, though so far no suit has been filed against Fort Mill.

The council also approved three amendments to the Fort Mill zoning code to include the overlay district.

Council members unanimously passed first reading of an ordinance to change the zoning on the Elliott Street properties from highway commercial to local commercial. The less intensive local commercial uses would fit in better with the residential area surrounding the Elliott Street properties, according to town staff.

Town Manager David Hudspeth said none of the property owners affected by the change has raised objections. The council must approve a second vote on the rezoning before it takes effect.