He’d eventually cast the only vote in favor of it, but with more than 800 homes at stake, and likely just as many opinions on whether they should be built, Joe Branham wasn’t sold either.
“I go at this thing with mixed emotions on it,” said the Chester County Council member. “I understand both sides of it. About all we can do is take a vote on it.”
That vote, a 3-1 decision on March 19, means Chester County won’t rezone property to more than double how many residences LGI Homes can build on almost 250 acres in Richburg. The builder had planned the community just off I-77 on Edgeland Road, near the Giti Tire facility.
Councilman Brad Jordan didn’t change his stance throughout the months-long rezoning process. He couldn’t get past the density change.
“Those concerns have not been alleviated,” he said. “I want to see growth in Chester County. But I want to see growth that is appropriate for what we can handle.”
He pointed to a recent fire in Sun City, a retirement community in Lancaster County where homes are much closer than they typically are in Chester County. Jordan said he was told a cigarette butt started that fire. While he didn’t change his mind, Councilman Archie Lucas did.
“I very seldom change my vote,” he said. “I’m pretty well bull-headed when I set my head, why and how I’m going to look at things. But in this issue, I will have to change my vote.”
Lucas thought about a trip for his great-grandsons’ birthday party in the Charleston area. The community there, he said, is similar to what LGI proposed for Chester County.
“They don’t have enough room between homes -- not apartments, homes -- to park automobiles,” Lucas said. “Now that’s a little radical.”
Lucas knows the new homes would be “a lot of money and a lot of taxes.” They also would mean more traffic, need for public services.
“I don’t want to put that on our Chester County residents,” Lucas said.
Shane Stuart, county administrator, reminded council members that housing is a big piece of its approved strategic plan. As Giti and others look to add jobs, people need a place to live, he said.
Branham had the same thought before voting in favor of the zoning change.
“There’s several more developments that’s in the planning stage now to come down,” he said. “And what are we going to do? I know housing is a very big concern.”
Despite many “half-truths” throughout the discussion, Branham said he understands there are valid concerns with adding so many new homes in a largely rural area.
“It’s been several issues brought up about safety, fire, water, sewer, ingress, egress, more than one entrance to the thing,” he said “Buffers between one property to another.”
Councilman Pete Wilson said concessions have been made by the homebuilder.
“Not enough,” he said. “This is an extremely large development for this piece of land. And when you look at the shape of the property, it’s unfortunate because there’s a long, narrow stretch where all these houses would be built.”
Wilson often compared what neighboring York County is doing to handle growth, looking at growth standards, impact fees, utility impacts. Wilson said he wants Chester County to find answers to its growth issues on the front end, rather than having to react to them.
“I’m just not convinced that this is a safe plan. If this doesn’t pass, something else will,” he said. “And we have an opportunity in Chester County to do it the right way.”