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Chester Co. leaders weighing quality of life vs. proposal for 800-plus new homes

More than 800 homes could come just off I-77. Why the county wants to take its time.

Chester County SC delayed a vote that could allow for more than 800 new homes near Richburg, South Carolina.
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Chester County SC delayed a vote that could allow for more than 800 new homes near Richburg, South Carolina.

It isn’t every day Chester County has a plan on the table for more than 800 new homes. So county leaders want to take their time and get the decision right.

Chester County Council Monday night to delay final approval on a zoning change that would reshape its residential landscape. Council plans to bring the developer in for questioning in two weeks, before the final decision.

“I think all of us (have) got some questions we’d like to have asked, for the people who can answer the questions,” said Councilman Joe Branham.

LGI Homes wants to put about 840 homes on almost 250 acres. The site is on Edgeland Road in Richburg, just off I-77 near the new Giti Tire facility and other commercial sites along Lancaster Highway. The plan is for six neighborhoods built in phases. They are part of the Gateway Master Plan adopted by Chester County.

The first phase will include about 150 homes. They will be accessible from Edgeland. An acre is included for fire and rescue department use.

A traffic study showed at least two new traffic signals are likely needed for the larger project. An entrance north of Lancaster Highway would have a right turn lane and signal, and likely a left. A second entrance would be for emergency traffic.

Councilman Pete Wilson twice voted for the zoning change, but said he came into Monday night’s meeting with an open mind. Often public officials vote projects through to a final reading to allow time for conversation, debate, at times negotiation among concerned parties. But final reading is different.

“That’s when everybody gets to thinking hard about it,” Wilson said.

The councilman maintained his optimism, but it came with questions.

“It’s an exciting project,” Wilson said. “I’ve got some concerns for it. One being the access. The development really has one main way in. It’s going to be a lot of homes on a single access road.”

Councilman Brad Jordan has been the voice among his peer against the zoning change. Without the zoning change, the property could’ve had up to two houses an acre.

“It’s going to double the number of houses we can put on that area, or more,” Jordan said. “Our elementary school is at capacity right now. There’s one way in and one one way out of that development. It creates additional traffic issues.”

Jordan said he isn’t opposed to community growth, but also realizes it impacts fire and police protection, water and sewer, traffic — most every quality of life factor of interest to residents. A lack of development impact fees in Chester County is a main reason Jordan lacks support for the plan.

Impact fees are charges on new development, aimed at helping pay for public services required by the incoming growth. York and Lancaster counties are considering them, while Rock Hill, Fort Mill and the Fort Mill School District all have them.

“We don’t have impact fees in Chester County,” Jordan said. “Until we do, I don’t think we’re ready for a development of this size.”

Councilwoman Mary Guy agreed there are enough issues remaining with the proposal to put off the final vote for a couple of weeks.

“That’s the reason I’ll go along with postponing, too,” she said. “So we can all ask more questions.”

New residential development in the region, particularly along I-77, isn’t new. Fort Mill and Tega Cay have had plenty, some larger than the 840 homes proposed. Lake Wylie and Rock Hill get their proposals. What makes the latest plan different is how far south of the state line it is.

In 2010, all of Chester County had 14,701 homes. That number actually dipped by 2016, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. Those same statistics show just 49 building permits for residences in 2016.

Chester had fewer than 2,600 homes in 2010. Richburg had 275 people living in 129 homes back in 2010. The estimated population in 2016 was 263 residents. Living in an estimated 180 homes.

While county leaders debate the merits of the current plan, they agree on some key points. The project is a major decision for the county, and it may not be the last of its kind.

“I really can’t say to what extent we can expect it,” Jordan said. “There are some other developments that may be coming up, but none this large.”

Should more developments come, whether on scale with the current one or smaller and in support of it, Chester County is having to think through growth issues more common in recent years to their neighbors to the north. York County, Fort Mill and surrounding areas have come up in conversation. Chester County wants to somewhat copy what those communities did well.

And, to avoid potential pitfalls of residential growth while they still can.

“It's really all about growth,” Wilson said. “Healthy growth. We need it. I'm in favor of it. I think most of council would be in favor of it. It just has to be the right kind.”

While the county hasn’t had residential decisions to make on scale with the current one, the inexperience also means a fresh start for making the best decisions possible. Even when they take a couple of extra weeks.

“I think really everybody feels like this is the first of many,” Wilson said. “That’s why we really want to do this right.”

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