Fort Mill Times

Charlotte’s River District plan to impact Lake Wylie area

From public services to the environment, plans for a massive new development on Lake Wylie will reshape the area.

Steele Creek is the latest community to grow along the lake and nearby stretches of Catawba River. McLean in Belmont will put 800 homes, commercial and park space on 670 acres bordering York County. Fort Mill has a large residential project just south of the lower dam, while a $70 million Rock Hill development is planned for apartments, condos, a hotel and more. Tega Cay is working on a 61-acre park off Dam Road.

Now, Crescent Communities and Lincoln Harris are partnering to develop 1,300 acres between Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and the Catawba River. The project will be similar in scale to Ballantyne. Plans include 4,000 residences, 500,000 square feet of retail, 8 million square feet of office space and 520 acres of open space.

“The recently announced River District west of the airport is certainly an ambitious project that if completed will forever change the landscape and character of the Steele Creek Community,” said Karl Froelich, president of the Steele Creek Residents Association.

Froelich sees positives, like the project’s proximity to major roadways in interstates 85 and 485. He also sees concerns.

“The Steele Creek community is currently struggling with traffic issues on the existing roads,” he said.

Dan Mullane, head of the Lake Wylie Covekeepers, says a major impact could be environmental.

“As far as this development, what can we do?” he said. “It’s inevitable areas will be developed. We will need support from many (community) members to continue to keep an eye out.”

The covekeepers monitor water quality and runoff on a volunteer, nonprofit basis. Then there are the municipalities.

Mecklenburg County’s land use department enforces codes and reviews development plans, but also conducts scheduled water quality testing. More than a half dozen sites in the Steele Creek area test for nutrients, pollutants and sediment infill.

With so much new development expected so close to Lake Wylie, a new monitoring station will be added at Little Paw Creek, between Paw Creek and Withers Cove. Dave Ferguson, environmental specialist with the county, said the area is vulnerable to silt problems.

“I fish in that area, in addition to my professional responsibilities to Mecklenburg County,” he said. “I’ll see if anything goes wrong.”

The Lake Wylie Marine Commission receives monthly water quality reports from Mecklenburg County. The group hopes a new station will help identify potential issues with the development that can then be addressed quickly.

“We’re glad to have someone on that,” said commission chairwoman Lynn Smith. “And it’s good to have something in place before rather than after bad things happen.”

Public service is another area that will be affected. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has 13 patrol divisions, varying in size depending on population. Steele Creek and Freedom are two of the larger patrol areas in the county. Steele Creek covers Lake Wylie and up to Mountain Island Lake, while Freedom serves the land area slated for the new development.

The Charlotte Fire Department has an on-site station at the airport, and two more stations immediately east and south. Yet none of its 42 total stations sits west of I-485 from Mount Holly-Huntersville Road to Shopton Road West.

Then, there are property values. The Palisades sits on 1,500 acres along Lake Wylie. That development has been building 13 years and still has six more to go. There are about 800 homeowners now. Full buildout is 1,600-1,800 homes.

New home agents there say a quality development north of them “can’t do anything but help” property values. They say developments like The Palisades has helped bring in community amenities, land for a new school and other features.

Residents expect a dramatic impact in either direction, and they hope it’s for the better.

“Although we like our community as it is, we recognize that development will continue to occur,” Froelich said. “We would appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts and concerns with the developers to create a plan for a high quality, sustainable River District that will benefit our residents for years to come.”

John Marks: 803-831-8166