The York County Council needs to respect zoning designations and stick to its comprehensive plan when considering rezoning requests. But we can see a need for allowing conditional zoning changes in certain situations where conflicts among different interests can be resolved by doing so.
Last week, the council approved a new conditional zoning designation to “prevent or minimize adverse impacts upon property or the environment,” according to a memo from York County Planning and and Development Director Dave Pettine. Under the new procedure, the council could set specific conditions before approving zoning changes.
In essence, it’s a tool to deal with gray areas where a zoning change might be largely desirable to the community but where nearby property owners might be adversely affected by aspects of the rezoning, such as increased traffic or loss of green space buffering. Conditional zoning allows the council to set requirements that minimize the impact on neighbors but otherwise allow the changes to occur.
For example, the council could limit the hours a business could operate or prohibit owners from building a parking lot or creating an entry or exit that would increase traffic in a neighboring residential area. In a real-life example, the owner of a convenience store located on Mount Gallant Road in Rock Hill has asked the council to rezone the property from a single-family district to a general business district so he can expand the store.
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But doing so might create the possibility of large-scale commercial and business development in the future if the owner vacates the lot. This might be an opportunity to use conditional rezoning to allow the expansion but limit the type of development that could occur at that site in the future.
The danger is that the council might be tempted to split the difference on nearly every rezoning request. The county staff has warned the council that conditional rezoning should be used only on a limited basis, not as a panacea for every zoning dispute.
The Planning Commission and Pettine have offered to work with the council to determine when conditional rezoning might be appropriate. The hope is that the council will hew to the comprehensive plan, the long-term vision for the county’s growth. The plan was last updated in 2004. County Manager Bill Shanahan has started updating the plan to reflect new population growth projections and development forecasts for the next decade.
The comprehensive plan is designed to be more than just a suggestion about how to approach growth in the county. If the county ignores the blueprint and makes exceptions whenever convenient or whenever vocal groups of residents raise objections, the county will end up with a patchwork of zones that hamper orderly development and create conflicting land uses throughout the county.
Conditional rezoning can be a useful tool. But if overused, it also can contribute to lazy, inappropriate zoning changes.
We hope the council will work with county planners and staff to ensure that this tool is used wisely.