York County planner: Roads not deciding factor on land use decisions

Residents want roads to be the deciding factor forwhere developers can build new communities and retail centers.

Should county planners let them?

As northeastern York County grows, so does resident unrest about new residential or commercial projects. Residents, speaking out at meetings and through news and social media, say roads can’t keep pace.

“People want our roads fixed,” said Christi Cox, a Rock Hill resident elected to the Council in the fall representing much of the Fort Mill area. “We need to figure out how to do it. It’s not just an issue of money. It’s not just an issue of avoiding economic development issues. It’s about safety.”

Yet roads alone haven’t been a deciding factor for county planners. Now they want direction from the Council if they should be.

“The planning staff has not in the past, and does not at this point, recommend denial of applications, any applications, based solely on traffic,” said Audra Miller, county planning and development services director.

Miller said planners look beyond roads for many reasons.

“One of the most common is that traffic impact usually cannot be addressed by that particular development,” she said. “Whether it’s cost-prohibitive, whether it’s not their proportionate share, it just cannot be done.”

While county planners haven’t denied projects based solely on roads, roads are part of the overall equation.

“(What) we always consider (is) ‘are the recommended improvements appropriate? Are they proportionate to the impact that this development will be causing and is it something that the proponent could actually do?,’” Miller said.

Roads could play a more significant role.

“We do have the authority under the current ordinance to make such a recommendation of denial, we just haven’t been doing that,” she said.

While planning staffs offer a recommendation, final say on annexations, development agreements and similar issues comes from municipal councils. Still, those groups rely heavily on staff input.

“If we have the power to do it, then I think it’s incumbent upon the staff to tell us how are we going to know when it’s a safety to concern such that we need to use that power,” Cox said.

York County Councilman Michael Johnson of Tega Cay points to the nearly 12,000 new homes to be built within the Fort Mill school district boundaries in the next 10 years as a reason why roads have to play a larger role in decisions.

“For this county or any municipality not to consider the impact that’s going to have on the roads makes absolutely no sense to me,” he said. “This is a massive problem that we have, and we’ve got to get our hands around it.”

As county officials work on the land use plans, planners want more input from residents.

Public meetings are planned for Rock Hill, Fort Mill and Lake Wylie beginning Feb. 23.