Fort Mill Times


FORT MILL TOWNSHIP -- Residents of the Hensley Road area won't find out exactly who will lose their homes to the Southern Bypass until January. In the meantime, everyone is preparing to fight the county.

"We've kind of got houses in mind, [but] until we see their plan though, we don't know for sure," resident Bill Hensley said. "We don't feel they've been open and honest with us the whole time."

Hensley is among more than a dozen families living on or near Hensley Road that could lose property - in some cases homes - to the 2003 Pennies for Progress project. The neighbors have been opposing the proposed alignment of the Fort Mill Southern Bypass since it was narrowed to a 200-foot wide corridor running through the community.

All of the residents of Hensley Road, as well as many other township residents along the proposed route, will be getting invitations to a public unveiling of the final proposed alignment for the bypass at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, at Fort Mill High School, according to Pennies for Progress Program Manager Jim Gaddy. The county will be taking public comments on the road one last time before the county council votes on the alignment Monday, Feb. 2.

"On our latest count we have five homes that will be razed," Gaddy said.

County officials won't contact those homeowners or other property owners who will also lose land until after the council approves the final route. By January 2010 the county should be purchasing land in the Hensley Road area for the road, Gaddy said.

However, construction on the first leg of the road, form Brickyard Road to Doby's Bridge Road, should begin by next summer, Gaddy said. Obtaining right-of-way for that portion of the road is not a problem because developer GS Carolina bought much of the property it will cross in that area and offered to help the county build the road. Having that first leg in place by 2010 is critical for the opening of another elementary school in the area. It also allows GS Carolina to continue building houses in its massive Massey development.

Construction on the remainder of the road, from Doby's Bridge near Whites Road to Tom Hall Street and Springfield Parkway should be completed by 2013, Gaddy said.

But it was never supposed to have been a problem. Back in 2006 York County notified Fort Mill of the general area it was looking at for the road, and asked the town not to approve any zoning changes or new development in that area. The Hensley Road community was not part of that area. But, a development called Kimbrell Crossing was.

However, Fort Mill annexed and approved Kimbrell Crossing after the county had chosen the general area for the road corridor.

Fort Mill officials later said approving the development was an oversight. Because the land had been rezoned and the developer had already begun installing infrastructure for the project, it was deemed too expensive for the county to pursue building the bypass through Kimbrell Crossing. Instead, it was rerouted through the Hensley Road area. Kimbrell Crossing's owner has filed a lawsuit over the road as well.

"It's not a fair situation," Hensley said. "They want to kick out old, elderly people to accommodate the builders."

His frustration is evident whenever he talks about the road. Hensley and his neighbors said there is plenty of blame to go around, though they feel most of it belongs to Fort Mill for approving Kimbrell Crossing.

"The city went to sleep on it on purpose and let Kimbrell Crossing happen," He said. "Kimbrell (Fort Mill LP) is suing the city and the county now because they say their property is worthless, if so the city and county should buy it and put the road on it."

In addition to the possibility of losing their homes, Hensley said his neighbors are also being hit by falling home prices. If the county takes a person's home through eminent domain, it has to pay that person for the value of the property it takes. But the value today is less than it was last year or the year before.

For Hensley and his neighbor, it's about more than money, though.

"It's not a money thing on our part; It's about family, life - everything," Hensley said.

Many of his neighbors have lived in the same house for 50 years or more. Others are the adult children of the original homeowners.

As many as four generations of some families live in the area.

"You can't buy a home," Hensley said. "You can buy a house, but a home is what you build in it over the years."

The county has maintained it would be cheaper to eliminate houses in the Hensley Road area than to buy up land, much of it still vacant, in Kimbrell Crossing, because the homes in Kimbrell will be expensive.

Based on new estimates, the cost of the road has more than doubled from $15 million to $32.29 million.

"It's all tied to the price of oil," Gaddy said. "Since '03 construction costs have doubled."

Hensley and his neighbors don't plan to make it any easier. They vow to fight, which will mean more legal fees for the county.

Because of the faltering economy, Gaddy said more contractors will be bidding on the road, which could translate into a lower price for the county as they try to undercut each other.