Housing developers and opponents of more growth alike may have circled the date on their calendars, but it will be a little bit longer before they have a chance to sound off on proposed changes to York County’s zoning ordinance.
A public hearing on plans to tighten density rules for new subdivisions springing up in the county – an effort to slow the number of new homes under construction – was originally scheduled for the next York County Council meeting on Tuesday, after the council gave initial approval to the changes last month.
But York County has put off the hearing until council members have a chance to review proposed changes to make sure they really do what overlay supporters were calling for – protect the lake from overdevelopment.
If the rescheduled public hearing is anything like last year’s hearings on a proposed Lake Wylie overlay district, it should draw quite a turnout. Lakeside residents packed council meetings to encourage county leaders to do something to limit development in their area before locals become overwhelmed.
At its Aug. 17 meeting, the County Council gave tentative approval to the draft ordinance – which didn’t include any new rules specifically targeting the lake – but council members made clear they want something added to address that community’s concerns before a final vote.
Since then, the process has been on hold until the council members can schedule a workshop to discuss changes with planning staff, which depending on the seven members’ itineraries may not happen until later this month at the earliest.
What changes might come out of that process? Audra Miller, the county’s planning director, hopes council members will come with specific suggestions for how they want to see the lake handled.
Councilman Bruce Henderson, who pushed for the original overlay district idea, would like to see a buffer area around the lake similar to one proposed earlier in the zoning discussion.
“That’s the driving force behind this whole discussion,” Henderson said. “It’s not the same issue that you would have in Hickory Grove or southern York County, so you don’t have to paint the whole county with one large brush.”
But council Chairman Britt Blackwell said he’d still like to have a countywide approach to all zoning issues. His concern is mainly with the density standards in the ordinance.
“Obviously, you want to have both” addressed, Blackwell said. “What I’ve heard the majority of the council say is this can’t pass without an overlay.”
“I want to hear what planning staff have to say,” Blackwell said. “I’m putting a lot of faith in our staff.”
Others are less certain the lake’s more specific needs can be addressed within a countywide plan. That’s the conclusion Michael Johnson, whose district includes portions of the lakeshore and the fast-growing Fort Mill area.
“I had hoped we could have a one-size-fits-all solution, but as this has gone on, I’ve reached the conclusion that may not be possible,” Johnson said. “What Fort Mill needs long term is not the same as what McConnells needs.”
He’d like to see different standards adopted for “urban” and “non-urban” areas, so that tighter restrictions on growth can be applied as an area fills up.
“Not to prohibit growth, but just to allow our infrastructure to catch up,” Johnson said.
He’d also like “community benefit” factored into the decision, such as requiring developers to set aside more green space relative to the number of homes they put up, and how new development will impact failing roads. Last month, the county zoning committee discussed whether impact fees could be assessed on developers to pay for road improvements.
But those changes will have to wait to be discussed sometime after Tuesday, when those still concerned about the issue may or may not show up to share their thoughts during the regular public hearing.
Those who turned out for community meetings on the zoning changes earlier this year were asked to leave an email address with county planners. The planning department made good use of those after last month’s council meeting, when staff sent an email blast to every interested party on the list to let them know the hearing had been canceled.