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Rock Hill to Charlotte light rail momentum is growing. As for York County plans?

York County is ready to more than talk about light rail connection into Charlotte. County planners want to find out what it will take to make it happen.

On Monday night, interim county manager David Hudspeth outlined four small area plans to study. One is a light rail corridor. Two others, I-77 South and Dave Lyle Boulevard headed toward the Catawba River, could affect some of the properties a light rail path might take.

A fourth area, Lake Wylie, likely would be geared toward zoning and building rules affecting how residential properties develop. A light rail corridor plan could identify routes or promote certain development around them.

Small area plans, similar to overlays, are efforts to make land use, zoning, development and other decisions in a targeted area to promote county leaders’ vision.

The light rail idea has heated up in recent months with news the Carolina Panthers are building a practice facility in Rock Hill.

“We have not really identified where that route would be,” Hudspeth said. “We know where the old routes were considered. And I think logic would dictate where they would go. But there is a downtown Rock Hill component of it being considered.”

Hudspeth showed a 2006 map of light rail and bus rapid transit options from the Fort Mill-Rock Hill Area Transportation Study. That group makes funding decisions on federal money for the urbanized area including Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Tega Cay and much of the Lake Wylie and Indian Land. RFATS would play a major role in any light rail decisions for York County.

“That is something we have already begun discussions with Rock Hill, Fort Mill, and would probably be administered or managed by the RFATS group,” Hudspeth said.

Past studies, including that 2006 map, showed transit possibilities along the U.S. 21 corridor from the Pineville, N.C., area through Fort Mill into Rock Hill. Any connection into Charlotte would involve RFATS working with Charlotte Area Transit System.

“The county would participate in that,” Hudspeth said of a light rail plan, “but RFATS would really be the primary driver for that plan.”

Councilman Britt Blackwell, chairman of the RFATS policy committee, said one key area needs to be included. in the new study.

“We have not really pushed all the way down to Rock Hill,” Blackwell said. “We’re looking more like at Gold Hill Road, somewhere in that area. But I mean, with the changes now with the Panthers, you plan ahead.”

The Panthers and a bevy of elected South Carolina officials celebrated the team’s intended move at a Rock Hill pep rally earlier this month. The team is looking at a more than 200-acre site along I-77 between the Cherry Road and Dave Lyle exits. As of Tuesday morning, public records show the site hasn’t been sold by the family owning it for decades.

In the state’s courting of the Panthers, which included a $115 million tax incentive package signed by Gov. Henry McMaster at the pep rally, leaders, including McMaster, mentioned light rail to Charlotte as a possibility spurred by the Panthers site.

“This would be a great thing to have it in South Carolina,” McMaster said at a Lancaster County event in March, before the Panthers move to York County was official. “To have the office and the other facilities that may be attracted to accompany that including a medical facility, maybe even a convention center, retail. Of course, there’s always the possibility of light rail.”

Hudspeth said he could have more details on all four small area plans by mid-July following a Council workshop about priorities.

Mass transit moves

RFATS has an eye toward mass transit. In January group leaders, including mayors John Gettys in Rock Hill and Guynn Savage in Fort Mill, expressed support for light rail when the group’s policy committee met. The idea came up several times since, including at the group’s meeting in May.

David Hooper said he found it interesting to hear McMaster, at that summit in Ballantyne, say a light rail connection between Charlotte and Rock Hill needs to happen.

“You see the stronger focus right now on U.S. 21, bringing light rail from Pineville down into Rock Hill,” Hooper told the committee. “That seems to have, I don’t want to say the edge, per se, but it seems to be the one that is garnering the most attention.”

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