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York Co. wants to tighten rules for new subdivisions; residents say more needs to be done

A new zoning proposal being consider by the York County Council would restrict where new apartments can be built.
A new zoning proposal being consider by the York County Council would restrict where new apartments can be built. Herald file photo

It’s been a nearly a year since an uproar about the number of houses springing up near Lake Wylie led York County Council to consider how to better control growth and its impact on existing communities. Planners spent months reviewing different zoning rules and gathering comments from the public.

Now the final proposal is available for public review. It includes tighter standards on new housing subdivisions that planners hope will limit where and how many new homes can be built. But some residents wonder if the standards will go far enough to address their concerns; they want even more to be done.

Less dense neighborhoods

In an attempt to limit the number of homes in some subdivisions, the proposal’s biggest change involves calculating housing density in neighborhoods.

Previously, the county based the number of homes allowed on the total acreage, said Planning Director Audra Miller. So if zoning allowed for one unit per acre, a 100-acre development could have 100 homes. Now, the county will consider net acreage, meaning any requirements such as open space will be considered.

For example, the county requires that 20 percent of new residential land be set aside for open space. Another 20 percent may be set aside to meet a subdivision’s infrastructure needs.

Under the county’s growth proposal, the owner of a 100-acre development would have to set aside 40 acres. If the zoning allowed for one unit per acre, the developer could then build 60 homes on the remaining 60 acres.

Changes would also remove multi-family developments, such as apartments, townhomes and condos, from three of the five zoning classifications that currently allow those buildings. The change means those dwellings will be allowed in fewer areas of the county.

The proposed changes are scheduled to go before the Planning Commission on Aug. 10 and York County Council for initial consideration on Aug. 17. A public hearing would be held at the council’s Sept. 8 meeting.

The proposed changes are online at yorkcountygov.com/planninganddevelopment.

Because the push for updating the county’s zoning rules grew out of concerns specific to Lake Wylie, the lake was a main focus of the review. When county officials held community meetings on the issue around the county, the sessions near the lake drew the biggest and most vocal crowds.

Early versions of the draft plan included proposals for a 1-mile buffer zone around the lake and its coves that would put tighter restrictions on development close to the lake’s shore.

But the final version doesn’t include any lake-specific changes to the zoning rules, or the creation of new zoning districts. Instead, the proposal sets new standards countywide.

“Our original direction (from county council) was to look at the issue countywide, and that’s still the direction we’re operating under,” Miller said, adding the proposed changes should address the concerns of the lakeside communities who originally called for an “overlay district” for the area.

100 Number of homes allowed in a 100-acre subdivision with 1-unit-per-acre zoning, using gross acreage

60 Number of homes allowed in a 100-acre subdivision with 1-unit-per-acre zoning, using net acreage

Last fall, Lake Wylie residents packed council meetings when an effort to impose development restrictions on the area was discussed. Those discussions were spurred by the approval of a large housing development in the formerly rustic area. The restrictions would have affected the area from S.C. 49 between S.C. 274 and the Buster Boyd Bridge. County council members ultimately dropped that effort, partly out of a concern the plan could face legal challenges from developers.

Instead, the council opted for a comprehensive approach to changing the county’s zoning rules.

The planning staff tried to strike a balance between the concerns of longtime residents and the market demand for homes in a growing area.

“We did have a lot of input, and we tried to listen to the entire community, the property owners and the business developers, and reach a balance between two very different opinions,” Miller said. Whether her office did that “will be up to the council and the public to decide.”

Is it too late?

Months of work went into the proposed zoning ordinance, but it can still be changed. Councilman Bruce Henderson, who represents the Lake Wylie area, said he still wants the county to adopt rules specifically to address concerns about the lake.

“The zoning changes address some of the issues, but it doesn’t get to the true heart of the matter,” Henderson said.

One issue the proposal leaves unaddressed is how overdevelopment affects the lake. Many residents have complained not only about increased density of homes and traffic, but the effects of runoff from construction sites and soil erosion along the lake’s shore. Henderson said he worries more development on the lakefront could affect Lake Wylie’s long-term viability as a source of drinking water.

“Sooner or later, that will affect everyone throughout the county,” he said.

Miller said concerns about environmental issues affecting the lake are a separate issue from the question of zoning and subdivision rules.She said they are “on the radar” of planning staff, and updates to the county’s environmental ordinance are a likely next step.

“That’s something we’ll likely present to council sooner rather than later,” she said.

Doug Meyer-Cuno said the proposed changes are “a step in the right direction,” especially the requirement for more open green space around new developments. But the Lake Wylie resident and member of the York County Economic Development Board worries the changes come too late to stop much of the development already affecting the county.

“In Lake Wylie, there’s a lot of chaotic, unsustainable growth,” he said. “And there’s no mechanism here to protect that.”

Many of the large housing developments around the lake that sparked discussions about zoning have already received approval and wouldn’t be affected under the new proposal. Residents like Billy Hagner in the Allison Creek area are already upset about a 550-home development planned for nearby. He hopes a rules change would stop future developments of that size, but then he did the math.

In an RDII zoning area like Allison Creek, developments can have four units per net acre under the new standards. Even subtracting the open space and infrastructure requirements, the 324-acre site could still hold almost 800 homes.

“It’s less than what they could have done under the old rules, but it’s still double what we want.”

In

Doug Meyer-Cuno, Lake Wylie resident

Increased traffic congestion is another concern that goes along with housing growth. The proposed changes would add traffic analysis and “road connectivity” requirements to ease the impact of cars coming out of new subdivisions and give drivers multiple access points to neighborhoods. But Meyer-Cuno said the damage has already been done along S.C. 49 and the S.C. 160 area of Fort Mill.

When the county council considers the zoning changes, Henderson said, he plans to reintroduce the proposal for a buffer zone around the lake, a proposal he thinks other council members – the majority of whose districts include areas near the lake – will consider.

He thinks planners are reluctant to propose such a buffer zone for fear of a legal challenge. But Henderson remembers the same arguments being floated against the concept of zoning itself when it was introduced.

“You heard it was going to stop business in its tracks,” he said. “But it didn’t stop business. It didn’t stop prosperity. It didn’t stop people’s property rights. If anything, they’re happy there’s not a munitions factory right next to you, or an adult store next to a church or a school.”

Meyer-Cuno said he’d like to see an even more wide-ranging solution: a moratorium on new building. Planners in Lancaster County recently announced plans for their own moratorium on rezoning requests in nearby Indian Land, which has also seen an explosion of growth.

“Until they solve the traffic flow issue, we should hold it to a minimum amount of growth,” he said. “In a few years, it’s just going to cost the taxpayers more to solve the problem.”

Bristow Marchant: 803-329-4062, @BristowatHome

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