Fort Mill Times

Roads question to set course for Fort Mill impact fees

The latest road problem in Fort Mill isn’t on pavement, but on paper.

Members of the town planning commission met for more than three hours June 9 to hammer out a proposal for development impact fees, charges on new construction aimed at helping community growth pay for itself. But they couldn’t get past the road issue.

Transportation is one of four areas studied by the town for impact fees, along with park and recreation, municipal and fire protection. A formula sets costs for those categories based on the effect of the new development. Square footage, number of employees and expected traffic factor into the cost.

A transportation fee could help fund road widening or intersection improvements in town, a high priority need heard by planners. But officials are hesitant to charge more fees to new businesses for fear of stopping growth. Between 60 percent and 90 percent of the total allowable impact fees on large business comes from transportation costs.

Joe Cronin, planning director, recommended a proposal where the town charges 90 percent of what the state allows for parks and recreation, municipal and fire, then 75 percent for transportation. That setup would bring in an estimated $3.45 million for parks, $1.42 million for fire, $2.3 million for municipal and $2.63 million for transportation in the next five years.

A single-family home would be charged $2,964.75. Existing water, sewer and school impact fees charge almost $8,000. The average new home cost in Fort Mill last year topped $389,000.

“The incremental change is actually less than 1 percent,” said James Traynor, planning commission chairman.

Yet the same percentages would mean another $86,500 for a McDonald’s. An Applebee’s would bring in $49,000 and a Cabela’s, $537,000. Hospitals or large industrial sites would be charged even more.

Planners worry the impact fees could encourage more residential building. Especially when Tega Cay, Rock Hill and unincorporated York County sit so close. Some envision businesses relocating to those areas but adding residents to Fort Mill.

“If they go to Riverwalk, you’re still going to get them using the roads,” Traynor said. “You’re still going to have the kids going to the schools. My concern is you’re not going to get the quality growth.”

Commissioner Chris Wolfe said a desirable community nearby without impact fees “complicates things greatly.” Developers here would have several. Wolfe said Fort Mill is just starting to build a commercial base, like the Kingsley North development near I-77 that signed on LPL Financial and The Lash Group.

“You’d hate to have two buildings out there and say everything else is built in Tega Cay,” Wolfe said.

Cronin proposed capping commercial review fees for large businesses to offset some of the impact fee costs. Review fees now escalate with the size of a new building.

“They complain about it, but they’ve paid it,” he said. “Now would they pay it along with a large impact fee? I don’t know.”

Further discounting the transportation rate is the most obvious way to reduce costs on business. It would have little impact on the residential side. But that plan also reduces funding for road needs.

“I don’t know why you’d back off transportation,” said Commissioner Ben Hudgins. “Roads are one of the biggest (concerns).”

Commissioner Hynek Lettang likened impact fees to a box of baseball cards in the attic, that have value at one time but not another. As Fort Mill grows and fewer development opportunities exist, or if the changes to quality of life makes the town less attractive, impact fees might not be the option they are now. Or, impact fees could help maintain quality of life.

“It has value right now, but it might not have value always,” Lettang said. “It’s kind of a one-time opportunity.”

Other challenges exist. Wolfe is concerned about nonprofits charged with new fees. The town plans to exclude school construction through a provision other users could challenge, hoping that challenge never comes. Cronin said bad publicity for someone challenging to make the schools pay could keep the provision in place, though Traynor disagreed.

“I would be amazed if it weren’t challenged,” Traynor said.

The most pressing challenge is reaching a consensus. The commission will schedule another meeting this month, with a recommendation to Town Council expected by July. The group also needs a capital improvement plan to submit. The bigger picture question remains as to whether impact fees will help or harm the town.

Local business owners meeting with the planning commission gave varying opinions. One said he is looking outside town limits for a new commercial building with or without the impact fee. Another said he sees impact fees in many communities, and they do not slow or inhibit commercial investment.

“The impact fees have not curbed in any way, any of those communities whatsoever,” said economic council member Louis Roman.

Cronin is more a student of municipalities. Those that instituted impact fees predictably are communities with high growth rates. Cronin has yet to see impact fees repealed in those areas.

“They’re still the fastest growing cities in the state,” Cronin said.

John Marks •  803-547-2353