Chester County has land and a need for homes. But not just any homes.
Recent Chester County Council decisions offer a picture of what leaders want their county to be.
"We're in talks already with (Catawba Regional Council of Governments) to work on a plan for impact fees moving forward," Shane Stuart, the county supervisor, said during a meeting earlier.
Impact fees are charges builders pay on new construction to help support public services. That cost frequently is recouped through the cost of a home. The concept is not novel in this region. York and Lancaster counties, along with the city of Tega Cay, are studying them. Fort Mill and Rock Hill have them. The Fort Mill School District is asking to increase the one it has by four times or more.
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Unlike some of those areas, Chester County is not growing rapidly.
"The housing situation has been a problem for Chester County for decades now," said Councilman Joe Branham.
Schools in Fort Mill are looking for money from impact fees because there are more and more students living in all the new homes there. However, schools leaders in Chester County want more homes, Branham said. Many teachers live outside Chester County because there aren't enough affordable homes or rentals.
On Monday, Chester County Council moved forward with a plan for upscale apartments on 17 acres along Edgeland Road in Richburg. The group then moved forward with a zoning change from general to multi-family residential on Barnes Road in Great Falls.
Council then voted against two proposed zoning changes on York Road that would have allowed a 159-unit mobile home park. After considerable public comment, largely against the mobile home park, council decided to leave the zoning as-is.
"It's just not a good fit," said Councilman Pete Wilson. "It's not going to work."
Councilwoman Mary Guy said she has family and friends who live in mobile homes and isn't against them. They just don't fit the property, which would have access off JA Cochran Bypass, she said.
"Nothing's wrong with mobile homes if it's right, but I don't think it's right for that particular area," Guy said.
She would've liked to see homes for sale, or rent-to-own homes. The rent only plan, at least there, doesn't fit Guy's vision for the county.
"It's not what we need," she said.
However, part of the area is zoned to allow mobile homes.
"Some of this is already zoned how it is," Stuart said.
Property zoning, code overhauls and impact fees are methods leaders use to encourage the type of residential construction they want to see. A new home in Fort Mill today requires school, parks and recreation, municipal facilities and fire service impact fees. The average sales price for a home there, driven largely by new construction, is more than $300,000.
Chester County isn't experiencing the same amount of construction as Fort Mill, but leaders in both communities are speaking the same language about development.
"We need (impact fees) in place before we have a lot of development come in," said Chester County Councilman Brad Jordan. "The developers need to pay their share."
Jordan said he had similar concerns about the upscale apartment decision Monday — it still needs a third and final approval — that he did with a LGI Homes rezoning council denied in March. That plan would have allowed more than 800 homes on 250 acres in Richburg.
"We also are dealing with an increased burden on the county that I think we need some impact fees or developer agreement before we really need to take this on," he said.
Impact fees, proponents say, are a way to shift the cost to the incoming residents rather than existing taxpayers.
"I don't think it's fair to the citizens, for them to take on the full burden of water, sewer, police, fire, schools — everything that goes along with an influx of people coming in," Jordan said.
Chester County Council members almost unanimously said they would support new impact fees.
"I agree we need impact fees," said Councilman Archie Lucas. "What's the impact going to be on local schools? What's going to be the impact on law enforcement? What's the impact going to be on the library, medical services, fire department services?"
Lucas recommended holding off on the apartments plan until Council could look closer into the fees.
"This one is too good to try to put off," Councilman Alex Oliphant said of the apartments.
Oliphant said he has been a proponent of impact fees for years, but he doesn't believe the apartment project should have to wait.
"You can't necessarily punish a developer because we're not prepared," he said. "This is an upscale development that is going to be extremely beneficial to the county from a tax base, and for a very needed service of really nice housing."
A road coming with the project leads to the Gateway district and planned hotels. One already under construction is a $12 million project, Oliphant said, with an annual tax base contribution at about $300,000.
"The tax base is going to be enormous," Oliphant said of the apartment project. "These are market rent, all I can say is Fort Mill, Charlotte type nice apartments."
Leaders say they don't expect these recent decisions to be the last ones they face. Already there is a project in Lando on the books for almost 600 homes. Branham said he spoke with someone at the council of governments about impact fees and wants a special meeting to discuss cost, ramifications and "a whole lot of other ins and outs."
"I know it's going to be a lot of questions," Branham said.
Still, it's a conversation worth having.
"I'm definitely in favor of an impact fee," Branham said.
Oliphant said new impact fees in Chester County, like ones elsewhere in the region, could take a year or two before becoming the rule. Too long, he said, to wait when the county gets a project it wants.
"We need to proceed aggressively, but it's not going to impact this project," Oliphant said.