Rock Hill council approves Walmart plan; neighbors will continue fight at state level

After the Rock Hill City Council approved on Tuesday night a plan for a new shopping center on Celanese Road, some nearby residents opposed to the development say they’re taking their fight to state lawmakers.

The council’s approval comes after three members changed their initial January votes to reject the request to build a Walmart Neighborhood Market or grocery store, gas station and other retail shops.

Some residents who live near the development site at the corner of Celanese and Ebinport roads have voiced concerns for several months about the potential impact the shopping center would have on property values and quality of life.

Many residents still want to fight the development but their chances are slim, said Kristen Kull, a resident of Swan Meadows – the closest neighborhood to the shopping center site.

Their last option, she said, is to convince the S.C. Department of Transportation to reject the developer’s request for some road projects to accommodate the development.

Before construction can begin, the developer will need S.C. DOT approval to partially close a street, realign another street and add a traffic signal to Celanese Road.

To develop about 14 acres and build a 42,000-square-foot Walmart Neighborhood Market, developer Steve West of Halpern and Associates says he needs to partially close part of Ebinport Road.

Under West’s plan, Ebinwood Road – which connects to Celanese Road – would be realigned and become part of Ebinport Road.

Closing part of Ebinport Road – which serves as one buffer between Swan Meadows residents and Celanese Road – was a sticking point for Councilwoman Kathy Pender, who opposed the plan which passed 5-2.

The developer, Pender said, tried to address neighbors’ concerns, including agreeing to build a taller fence between the shopping center and Swan Meadows. After Pender asked for the taller fence two weeks ago, West agreed to build an 8-foot tall wooden barrier instead of an originally proposed 6-foot tall fence.

Mayor Doug Echols pointed out on Tuesday that West could opt to build his shopping center without city approvals, by moving ahead with plans without requesting to be annexed into city limits.

Currently, the 14-acre site sits just outside Rock Hill city limits. York County building and land use rules would allow for shopping center construction. Tuesday night’s approval brings the land into city limits.

If the shopping center and Walmart grocery store are going to be built, Echols said, nearby residents are better off with West developing the land under city standards – which are stricter than York County’s.

City Council members cannot block one company or developer’s request solely because some neighbors don’t see a need for more shopping options, Echols said. Council members have read numerous emails and comments from concerned residents who say Celanese Road already has enough grocery and retail stores.

Echols and others on the council said commercial development has ramped up on Celanese Road and that Rock Hill leaders cannot shut the city off from business investments.

Still, Councilman Kevin Sutton – who voted against the plan on Tuesday – said the negative impact of a new traffic signal to accommodate the shopping center wasn’t worth the boost to the city’s tax coffers. While he’s not “a Walmart-basher,” he said, he thinks the added traffic signal will clog traffic on Celanese Road and create more problems on Rock Hill’s busiest thoroughfare.

Celanese Road already has traffic problems and West isn’t the only developer eying the area, said Councilman John Black.

Maintaining the road as an effective thoroughfare is desirable but commercial growth along Celanese Road is already underway, he said, adding that “that genie is out of the bottle.”