Fort Mill’s history and vision for the future met headlong Monday, as leaders try to set a new course without losing what made the town the place they call home.
As Fort Mill Town Council approved historical review guidelines and investment incentives for commercial growth downtown, the group also struggled with an existing, landmark business. It’s been more than a year since the Wallace Coleman applied for rezoning of his auto repair shop property on North White Street. Council still hasn’t voted on it.
“There’s still not a good answer,” said Mayor Guynn Savage.
The auto body shop doesn’t fit its current zoning. Because it’s been operating on the property so long, it’s grandfathered in and can stay open for business. But it can’t grow, which is why the owner asked for rezoning ahead of a sale.
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“They couldn’t add onto a non-conforming use,” said Joe Cronin, town planning manager. “They can improve. They can’t expand.”
Discussions with town planners involved an expanded auto body shop, but no additional businesses allowed in the general industrial zoning Coleman asked for mid-2015. Walter Elisha Park, across the street, has a general industrial zoning.
“It was general industrial when you had the mills operating there for about 100 years,” Cronin said. “Now it’s a park.”
Within months, the town should have a new unified development ordinance in place to eliminate the general industrial zoning. Planners also expect a zoning change for the park to reflect its current use. Other zoning districts will change, like downtown. Downtown uses will include residential and office, retail and restaurants Main Street.
Industrial uses downtown don’t fit in the plan.
“Those were not consistent with what we’re trying to promote in the downtown area,” Cronin said.
Savage said she feels “cornered trying to do the right thing.” It doesn’t make sense, she said, for Council to approve a zoning change to a district that’s going away.
“It’s not in keeping with the direction the town is taking,” she said.
Yet Savage, a long-time community member, remembers when the auto repair and service station was one of many in the area. It’s identifiable in a gateway area coming into Fort Mill.
“The street was lined with them at one point,” she said.
Council ultimately decided Sept. 26 to wait yet another month on a decision, to allow one last conversation between the owner and town to find another option. Savage said she doesn’t want to impede the business or string out a decision unnecessarily. She just wants to make the right one.
“They can continue operating as-is,” she said. “The applicant obviously has a reason.”
Several decisions Monday offered a glimpse where downtown is headed. Council approved a $30,000 agreement with The Dodd Studio for master planning a new farmers market. Plans are to have one downtown, near Main Street. Council also approved an up to $5,000 matching grant program for façade improvements.
“This is a commercial façade improvement grant,” Cronin said. “There would be preference for the first two years to Main Street.”
Council also gave final approval to new historical review guidelines and several new economic incentives aimed at bringing in new business headquarters and related investments. The review guidelines will codify requirements for owners of historic properties.
“This is a great opportunity for the town to have guidelines for revitalization,” said Councilwoman Lisa McCarley.
The guidelines also should help avoid problems question about specific policies or interpretations.
“It is a continuation of an effort to make things even, fair, applicable, to make sure anybody that comes to the town gets the same answer as the next 100 people,” Savage said.
The economic incentives involve manufacturing, corporate headquarters, distribution and research and development centers. Council hopes it makes Fort Mill more attractive for investors, just as property tax rules for historic properties did drawing redevelopment of several Main Street properties.
“This is an excellent opportunity to continue moving forward,” Savage said. “This gives us the definition we’re looking for.”