Part IV in a series
For some Tega Cay resients, social media is more than a fun way to share dinner photos and keep up with family and friends.
In a more serious light, it may have been a tool that helped reduce the number of homes in the Windhaven development. But that depends on who you ask.
One concerned citizen who parlayed his activism into a seat on city council thins it did. The city’s top administrator disagrees.
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The 120-acre mixed use project off Gold Hill Road went from 600 residences, including apartments, to 400 with no apartments, in large part due to resident feedback on social media, insists Tega Cay City Councilman David O’Neal.
“Social media got people energized to attend the meetings and voice their disapproval to it,” he said.
“The original plan of 600 homes was later changed to 400 homes largely due to the opposition of those people, and there were other concessions by the developer. They all came together because of a post on social media.”
O’Neal, who, along with Ryan Richard, another first-year councilman, opposed the development, but the city approved the annexation of the property where Windhaven will be built with a 3-2 vote on March 21. O’Neal often shares updates from Council meetings on social media. Prior to the annexation vote, he posted on Facebook following a meeting discussing the development and instantly received feedback.
“Boy, was it a big hit,” O’Neal said. “It’s one of my biggest Facebook posts.”
That post, he said, helped bring people to the city council meeting to voice their concerns. City leaders ended up voting on Feb. 16 to table a decision on Windhaven until their March meeting.
“The opposition helped get the annexation tabled to a later meeting,” O’Neal said. “During this time the developer made several concessions that made his plan more palatable.”
Council members and residents pushed for fewer houses and the inclusion of recreation space and a new school site, O’Neal said.
“It got so much better because it engaged people on social media and they got involved,” O’Neal said. “In my view it changed the project. In my opinion, it would have been 600 houses.”
However, not every city leader holds the same view.
“Social media didn’t play any role that I am aware of in the changes to the Windhaven development,” Tega Cay City Manager Charlie Funderburk said.
Funderburk said he doubts that council members were making requests based on what they have seen on social media and that any changes to the development took into consideration the city’s comprehensive plan.
“We have a smart group on Council who understand that we have to steer the city based on our comprehensive plan that many residents spent time on,” he said.
“Social media had absolutely nothing to do with the changes I requested of the developer as my requests were from Council and in keeping the development in line with the comprehensive plan of the city.”
Unlike O’Neal, Funderburk isn’t as active with residents’ comments on social media.
“The city does not monitor other social media sites to see what they want us to do and then react,” he said. “That is absolutely no way to run a city.”
Mark Herring, dean of Library services at Winthrop University and author of “Social Media and the Good Life: Do They Connect,” said local leaders do need to pay attention to their residents’ posts on social media.
“Clearly, council members and government officials who are not paying attention to social media are going to be blindsided by it,” he said.
The Tega Cay Council’s actions did not sit well with city resident Jeff Mauney, who runs the Facebook group The Tega Cay Bulletin Board. He said there were many posts on his page regarding the development due to its size and location across from Tega Cay Elementary School.
“My personal opinion is that if not for the amount of exposure it received on my board and elsewhere the current city council would have approved the very first proposal that was presented to them,” he said. “I believe social media played a huge role in the Windhaven project's final offer.”
Herring said Windhaven very well could have ended up with close to 600 homes without social media’s impact. He said people need to know where to go and when to share their opinions to make a difference.
“Social media makes it a lot easier to get this information,” he said.
Social media also gives residents a platform to enact change, said Ben Ullman, who founded Tega Cay Talk, a social network with a website, Facebook group and twitter page.
Ullman said he shared O’Neal’s posts regarding Windhaven on his page.
“I think Tega Cay Talk has helped stimulate some change, mainly by connecting people with information and with each other,” he said. “Ultimately, I think people are the effectors of change and social media enables communication among them.”