York Co. Council moves forward with growth limits on head count

Already over-burdened roads are part of what’s driving a push to slow down growth in parts of York County.
Already over-burdened roads are part of what’s driving a push to slow down growth in parts of York County. Herald file

It wasn’t a vote, but York County Council members offered an indication this week of just how far they are willing to go to limit future housing growth in the county.

At the end of a discussion on plans for an “adequate public facilities” ordinance – a measure that could empower York County to block new housing developments because of crumbling roads or other sagging infrastructure – County Council members did a quick head count on how much support there is for moving forward with the idea – and a potential housing freeze to go along with it.

Four of seven council members indicated they could support such an ordinance, while two were skeptical and one, Chairman Britt Blackwell, told his colleagues he is “adamantly opposed” to the idea.

“It never works,” Blackwell said of similar measures that have been adopted by other counties. “It always gets challenged and loses. That’s why nobody does it.”

County administrators now will study the proposal and bring draft legislation back to the council. But Monday’s head count also indicated how much members of the council might be willing to consider a temporary freeze on new housing in sections of the county that have seen the most growth – a pause that would halt new development while the county considers new rules that could curtail it.

Council members have not taken action on the housing freeze proposal.

The ongoing need for road repair, especially with the impact of traffic, was cited as a main concern of the ordinance. Councilwoman Christi Cox said an adequate facilities ordinance is necessarily to stop pouring more traffic from new subdivisions onto roads that are already failing.

“To deny a development when we know a road is not safe,” she said, “we need something like this in place.”

But Councilman William “Bump” Roddey said he doubted whether the county would actually commit to repairing any of the deficient infrastructure impeding new development.

“Do we want another tool just to not approve something?” Roddey said. “If we have a consultant say, ‘You need to do this,’ will we do it so they can develop? I get the sense this is another justification to say ‘no.’”

At times during the council’s discussion, the broader need for a fix to the county’s infrastructure problems took center stage, with members calling for the county to plan for necessary capital improvements when the council sets its budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

“We’re going to need a capital improvement plan whether we have (a new facilities ordinance) or not,” Councilman Chad Williams said.

Robert Winkler concurred.

“I don’t know which we need first, but we need to get (capital improvements) onto the budget,” he said.

Winkler also said he would be unlikely to support a facilities ordinance if it required a tax increase to pay for any improvements.

But most council members said they wanted to at least consider a more detailed proposal. Councilman Michael Johnson said he hadn’t given a facilities ordinance much thought until reviewing a memo prepared for Monday’s meeting outlining the details of one.

“Right now,” he said, “all I have to go off of is a three-page memo.”

Blackwell, on the other hand, worried any limits on development could hinder York County’s overall economy, and compared the idea to a state law capping property taxes that many local governments have blamed for their own budget problems.

“We need to not be so reactionary that we pass our own Act 388 and make things worse,” he said.

But Bruce Henderson summed up the feeling of the night.

“We need to have the backbone to say ‘no,’” he said. “I’m against an all-out moratorium, but we need to at least limit permitting to slow growth down.”

Bristow Marchant: 803-329-4062, @BristowatHome