State and York Co. argue in court to uphold rules allowing fees in Fort Mill school district
Clover’s top school leader made her district’s request official early this week, asking York County Council for its help in starting development impact fees.
“Clover School District has always taken pride in being proactive with our growth,” Superintendent Sheila Quinn told council. “We don’t want to get behind. We want to stay ahead. We’re proud of our facilities, and we want to maintain those strong facilities and our strong academic reputation.”
The Clover school board voted months ago to move forward with new fees. The district hired consultants, studied demographics and building plan needs.
“We’ve spent the better part of last school year completing the appropriate studies to be prepared to begin this process,” Quinn said.
Yet the district can’t charge impact fees — one-time charges on new construction aimed to offset growth costs — without the county.
This is the same process Fort Mill went through last summer. Fort Mill wanted to increase its fee from the rate set in 1996. The county studied it, sent it to the county planning commission and then to county council for approval. The county finalized increases in Fort Mill almost a year ago. Those increases have since been challenged by ongoing litigation from state and local homebuilder groups.
Like Fort Mill, the Clover district is an area where quality schools steer residential growth. Jobs in nearby Charlotte with direct road access — I-77 in Fort Mill, S.C. 49 in Lake Wylie and Clover — also contribute. Leaders in both areas routinely list schools and proximity to Charlotte as the major driving forces behind significant new home growth.
A legal battle
Impact fee opponents argue the charges unfairly target builders and make property more difficult to develop. Those who support the fees say growth should pay for itself, and charges on new construction are a fair way to make it happen.
York County and South Carolina, co-defendants in the Fort Mill lawsuit, are working through pretrial mediation with plaintiffs Shea Homes, Soni Construction, Home Builders Association of South Carolina and Home Builders Association of York County.
Mediation could run through mid-August, when arguments are due to the court. A non-jury trial could begin as early as Oct. 14. That outcome could have statewide impact, with part of the case made by homebuilders asserting impact fees are unconstitutional.
The Fort Mill school district has the area’s longest running set of fees, but municipalities and school districts throughout York, Lancaster and Chester counties either set up or discussed adding fees in the past half dozen years.
As schools and municipalities await a decision, Clover is moving ahead with its planning.
The Clover district projects needing a new elementary, middle and high school each in the next six years.
“We have a very strong understanding of the growth in our school district, and what is going to be in the next five to 10 years,” Quinn said.
Quinn told county council she met with local builders on the plan, and had three more such meetings in the coming week. The district met with developers and real estate groups. They met with Clover Town Council and the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce. They held a general information session for any interested resident.
“We have had stakeholder meetings in both the Clover and the Lake Wylie communities,” Quinn said.
A familiar path
Now the district needs the county. York County is familiar with the process, having worked through Fort Mill’s request, which upped fees from $2,500 per residence to more than $18,000 per home and $12,000 per apartment, and tackling its own fees.
At a workshop July 9, council heard from the same impact fee consultant used in Fort Mill and Clover about the county impact fee study. TischlerBise looked at fees for public safety, waste management and transportation. If approved they would apply to new construction in unincorporated parts of the county.
The study found state law would allow the county to charge up to $2,729 per home or $1,771 per apartment. The county also could charge more than $4,600 per 1,000 feet of new retail space, more than $2,900 for institutional construction, $1,300 for office and $662 for industrial. All the non-residential charges are based on 1,000 square feet.
Those figures are far lower than in Fort Mill, and the fees TischlerBise recommended in Clover of up to $12,537 per home and $6,493 per apartment.
School fees charge only new residential construction. Others, including the county, could charge business construction too.
The county fees, like the schools, would have to go to the planning commission before coming to county council for approval.