The Lancaster County panhandle is changing, and area leaders don’t see a slowdown anytime soon.
At the forefront of that change is residential growth, and leading it is a plan to turn a former camp site called TreeTops into more than 800 homes.
“It’s obviously going to change the area some,” said Lancaster County Councilman Brian Carnes, “because it’s a large influx of homes.”
Preserve at Tree Tops is zoned for up to 850 homes on 612 acres at 9070 Van Wyck Road. Lancaster County Council approved a development agreement for 835 homes in December. The project still has to be submitted for county planning department review.
Carnes said the property is right on the border between Indian Land and Van Wyck.
“It has historically been considered part of Indian Land, but it’s in between Indian Land and Van Wyck, and a lot of Van Wyck residents consider it part of Van Wyck.” It’s also inside the Van Wyck Fire District, Carnes said.
“The next step is preliminary plan approval,” said Alex Moore, county planner. “That only goes to the planning commission. It doesn’t go to county council.”
That approval could come in late winter or early spring. Lennar Homes is developing the property. The agreement with Lancaster County includes payments of $835,000 to the county for public safety and $417,500 for the Lancaster County School District by the end of the year.
It also includes up to $350,000 for improvements on Van Wyck Road; more than 2 acres donated for a medical, fire or law enforcement facility; a tax district to help offset costs for fire service; up to $5,000 each for the county putting the development agreement together and creating the tax district.
At least half of the homes in Tree Tops would be age-restricted. At least one resident would have to be 55 or older, and no permanent resident would be allowed under age 19.
The property includes about 60 percent open space. County records show it belongs to Thompson Child & Family Focus.
“It used to be a camp,” Moore said. “It was actually a camp for disadvantaged children.”
Per the development agreement, the first year would bring 75 homes, then 100 each subsequent year until the final 60 units arrive, nine years from the initial agreement.
Carnes said Lennar has been “a good developer to work with” on other projects in Lancaster County. The company’s work includes The Retreat at Rayfield and Carolina Reserve in Indian Land.
Former Lancaster County Council member Bryan Vaughn is a 15-year resident of Indian Land and is the safety and transportation director with Lancaster County School District. The district is aware of residential activity in the area and planning for it.
“Right now our biggest need is at the middle school level,” Vaughn said. “That’s where we’re really feeling the growth pains.”
About 3,200 students attend two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school in Indian Land. The second elementary school opened just last summer. The high school can hold up to 1,200 students and has about 875 now. The middle school has about 800.
“We believe we can add on 400 seats to (each school) without going to an additional site,” Vaughn said.
More detailed recommendations will come to the school board in the next several weeks, but the feeling is that expansion of current schools would precede any school construction. Continued residential growth in the panhandle could involve both.
Planners say interest in the Panhandle area is high. The county planning commission heard three more requests for new neighborhoods at its Jan. 20 meeting.
A map of commercial developments in the Lancaster County Panhandle, which includes Indian Land and Van Wyck, lists 91 existing or planned businesses. A similar map lists 43 residential developments.
Carnes said the proximity to Charlotte is a major reason why Indian Land is so popular, particularly for residential construction.
“It’s close to Charlotte, and on our end of town Mecklenburg County is running out of good, developable land,” Carnes said. “Number two is the property tax difference.”
Carnes said Tree Tops fits with nearby Sun City, which has 3,600 homes and a capacity for 400 more.
According to the 2010 federal census, the 29707 ZIP code – which includes Indian Land – had 7,852 residential units. Tree Tops, along with the three smaller projects that came to the planning commission Jan. 20, would be about 1,000.