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Zoning rules change will shape future of Lake Wylie

A sailboat glides across the water at Lake Wylie.
A sailboat glides across the water at Lake Wylie.

Concerns about overdevelopment on York County’s lakefront is driving an effort to revamp countywide zoning standards, with the expectation that tighter restrictions will slow or even stop growth in the county’s most popular areas.

York County Council has set a deadline of Aug. 1 to change the county zoning ordinance. After holding public meetings on the issue in February and March, County Planning Director Audra Miller reviewed the results with county council in April and asked for direction in turning the sometimes vague public concerns into a clear, enforceable public policy.

Lake-area residents have pushed the process forward, hoping to curtail the explosion of growth in recent years.

“The lake is our one water source in the county, and we need to protect it,” said Lake Wylie resident Doug Meyer-Cuno. “More construction and density is going to do long-term damage that is not good for our county... We need something that balances the interests of the homeowner and the community.”

The focus on the lake is no accident. The impetus for a zoning change springs from an effort by the county council last year to place a restrictive “overlay” district on the Lake Wylie community, but council members ultimately dropped that plan in favor of a more comprehensive approach to zoning issues.

Any final version of the plan will likely include lake-specific zoning districts. Miller proposes a 1-mile buffer zone around the lake and its coves that will put tighter restrictions on development close to the lakeshore. Any property where more than half the land area is within the 1-mile radius would face the restrictions, and similar limitations would apply to the unincorporated part of the Fort Mill side of the lake. The Catawba River would be a natural boundary for the district.

But Miller worries restrictions in one area could simply push development outside the new zoning districts, replacing denser development near the lake with sprawl across the county.

“Areas that are zoned agricultural now might want to be rezoned residential because of the limit,” Miller told council members April 20. “We don’t control the market, and that drives where people want to live.”

Many residents say they want density reduced around the lake, so fewer houses can be built on the limited acreage of the various peninsulas jutting into Lake Wylie. Allison Creek resident Billy Hagner worries new development has stripped away wooded areas in favor of large new subdivisions.

“They shouldn’t clear-cut it,” Hagner said. “They can put in the roads and utilities, and then clear the individual lots and not have as much impact. Now it’s just bare, nothing there.”

Like many other residents who spoke out in the process, Hagner would prefer that the lake area be limited to single-family housing. Longtime residents fear multifamily construction has created traffic issues and silt runoff into the lake.

But Miller worries an “apartment ban” would favor certain residents over others.

“That will limit housing opportunities in the county, especially for young workers,” she said. “We don’t want the lake to be a ‘gray’ community.”

Much of the concern expressed at the public meetings revolved around what Miller called a “save the lake” sentiment, where residents are concerned about the environmental impact of growth on the lake and surrounding wetlands. But Miller said the concerns raised “lack specificity,” and planners don’t have time to tighten definitions ahead of the Aug. 1 deadline. She said controls are already in place to prevent pollutants from entering water bodies in the county.

Imposing impact fees on new development was another common suggestion that came up in the meetings, but Miller says it will also take time to assess a baseline “level of service” in order to create a fee. She said her office can’t issue an impact fee for things like roads and schools, two of the main concerns raised against overpopulation on the lake.

But residents still want the wider impact of new development to play a role in any future zoning restrictions.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that development by the lake leads to erosion, to silt and sand getting into the lake,” Meyer-Cuno said.

While he agrees a long-term study of the issue is needed, “we need to protect the area from development today.”

Lakeside resident Peggy Clickner said any plan needs to take into account the pressure on infrastructure like water and sewer lines that would need to run to the new homes.

“Why do we hire planning people, if not to create a sustainable living environment?” she said.

Bristow Marchant •  803-329-4062

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

The debate around proposed zoning changes in York County is taking place in the shadow of two similar, but separate, concepts; a previously proposed overlay district specific to the Lake Wylie community, and a 10-year comprehensive plan to guide future planning decisions throughout the county. Public meetings on both the zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan were held around the same time and in some of the same venues earlier this year, and Planning Director Audra Miller said attendees often confused one with the other. Here are the differences:

Zoning ordinance:

By August, York County plans to have revised zoning standards in place. While the proposed changes would apply countywide, details have focused on the area around Lake Wylie, where residents are most upset about overdevelopment and rapid growth they fear hasn’t been strictly regulated. Final plans will likely include lake-specific zoning districts, which will be separate from...

Overlay district:

Last fall, the York County Council advanced a plan to restrict development on the peninsula housing most of the Lake Wylie community, running along S.C. 49 from the Buster Boyd Bridge past Three Points, to the S.C. 557 intersection at Oakridge Road. Residents from the area packed meetings from September to November to speak in favor of the overlay, citing threats to their quality of life from the explosive growth of housing on the lake. But developers and some property owners opposed the idea, arguing it would restrict the use of their property. Council ultimately backed down, fearing legal action if any changes didn’t follow the usual zoning process, leading to the current effort to set new rules in place.

Comprehensive Plan:

At the same time as York County was asking for public input on any proposed zoning changes, a separate but occasionally overlapping series of meetings were held to measure public opinion on the comprehensive plan. Required by state law, the plan is revised every 10 years to factor in changing conditions on the ground and public expectations about everything from natural resources to future business development. County planners use the plan when making decisions about the future growth of the county – including zoning changes. Results from that series of public meetings will be presented at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Baxter Hood Center at York Tech. The final plan must be approved by the end of the year.

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