Local

Plan for developers

If York County developers are going to build new houses that attract new families and add to the local school population, it seems reasonable to ask them to help pay the cost of expanding schools.

York County officials are mulling a plan called an "adequate school facilities ordinance" that would give school districts in the county the authority to negotiate with developers for compensation before new neighborhoods get built. The developers could be asked to provide land, money or facilities before they start building to ensure classroom space is available for any children who move into the new development.

This proposal is similar to the impact fee now automatically charged as a development cost in Fort Mill. Fort Mill took advantage of a window of opportunity by allotting local school impact fees just two months before the state eliminated school districts' right to charge them. Fort Mill now is the only district in York County to assess the fees, and only one of two in the state.

But the county's plan would not be an automatic assessment. As the plan now stands, developers would contact the school district in which they planned to build to ask if space would be available for new students. If space is available, the builder would be allowed to continue with the application process as usual.

But if there is not enough space, the builder could either negotiate a deal with the district or wait five years. County officials say this not only would bring in money or property to help with school crowding but also would increase communication between school, city and county officials about building projects. And it would save taxpayers money over the long haul.

Developers predictably have complained about the proposal. Curtis Sieck, president of the Homebuilders Association of York County, said he is ready to sue if the ordinance goes through.

Developers oppose the plan for many of the same reasons they have opposed impact fees. They say the plan would add to the cost of construction, raise the cost of homes for buyers, discourage new development and drive local developers to build in other counties that don't charge a fee.

But York County recently was found to be the fastest-growing county in the state. And Fort Mill's impact fee does not seem to have affected the pace of growth there. The Fort Mill school district is the fastest-growing in the state.

The fee might also encourage builders to develop parts of the county where population is less dense and schools can accommodate growth. As long as there is classroom space for new residents, no fee would be charged.

We hesitate to say that slowed residential growth would be a good thing in some parts of the county. But county officials are aware of the need to balance residential growth with business and industrial development, especially now that schools no longer can assess residential property taxes for operations.

We doubt that allowing school districts to negotiate for money or land to defray school costs would do much to discourage developers. York County's proximity to Charlotte -- one of the few places in the nation not drastically affected by the housing slump -- makes it a prime place to build new homes. As long as home buyers are willing to absorb the added cost of school fees, developers will continue to build homes.

We think the fee is a legitimate way to offer some relief to taxpayers, and we hope the county continues to pursue it.

IN SUMMARY

Proposal to allow school districts to negotiate a development deal makes sense.

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