One of the last big pieces of undeveloped land in Rock Hill's bustling Manchester Village area might not stay that way for much longer.
A national homebuilder wants to put 56 homes on a wooded tract off Springsteen Road, figuring that easy access to Interstate 77 and nearby shopping centers will be enough to overcome a dismal national housing market.
The plan offers a glimpse into two trends playing out in Rock Hill and across much of York County: Even as home sales around the United States plummet to historic lows, developers are still confident enough to build in select parts of the Charlotte region.
And although the current climate appears bleak, decisions in the building industry are made looking years into the future -- when conditions may prove different.
"If the market starts to turn in '08, if we don't buy and start to develop any land between now and then, we're not going to be in a position to have quality communities on the ground," said Kevin Granelli, vice president of Brentwood Homes' Charlotte division. "The market itself is going to rebound at some point in time."
Signs of a local downturn?
Though sales of existing homes in Rock Hill have remained healthy, the city is seeing early signs of a downturn in proposals for new subdivisions. The best evidence is unscientific but still useful: Fewer items on the city's Planning Commission agendas, said member Randy Graham.
"We've had fairly light agendas for probably the last six to nine months," said Graham, a commercial real estate broker. "The good news is we have shorter meetings. The bad news is we have shorter meetings."
Some neighbors near the proposed 17-acre site off Springsteen Road -- just east of Anderson Road across from Wyndale Drive -- would gladly accept a slowdown hitting their area. They say the roads around Manchester Village are already too congested and that more homes would worsen the problem.
"You can't even get out to that road sometimes," said Louise Osborne, who lives on Wyndale Drive. "It used to be no problem getting in and out. Since they built all those apartments and fancy houses, you know, the traffic is so bad."
Osborne and her neighbors found an ally in City Councilman Kevin Sutton, who criticized the Brentwood Homes plan during this week's council meeting.
"We haven't really done anything" to address congestion on Dave Lyle Boulevard, Sutton said. "In an area where we already have traffic concerns, why would we increase the density?"
If the proposal is approved at the Dec. 17 council meeting, construction would start late next year, and the first residents would move in by early 2009, Granelli said.
By that time, a decision could have already been made on a $120 million proposal to extend Dave Lyle Boulevard into Lancaster County -- an idea that opponents fear would open up far bigger pieces of vacant land to eager developers.
All this talk of development gives Lynn Plyler a feeling of resignation. Plyler recalled his boyhood days hunting rabbits and squirrels on a hill overlooking what once was a sewage lagoon near Mount Gallant Road.
Today, bulldozers are moving dirt to make way for luxury condos on the hill where Plyler once roamed. The nearby lagoon is now the Manchester Meadows soccer complex.
"Anywhere you've got vacant land, eventually they're going to put something in it, the way the city's growing," Plyler said. "It's everywhere you look. You're just more or less going to have to deal with it."