Opinion

County should reconsider opposition to development

The developer of the former Bowater seed orchard near the Catawba River said recently that it has halted talks with Rock Hill and York County and will move ahead with a less ambitious project that requires no new deals with local governments. We hope that's not the last word on this proposal.

Newland Communities, a California-based developer with projects nationwide, bought the 2,000-acre tract last year, outbidding a coalition of local environmental and outdoors groups that had hoped to preserve it for recreation. Newland's master plan was to build a 2,700-home subdivision featuring ample green space, schools, hiking and biking trails, and a riverfront park with public access.

But that plan would require the cooperation of both the city and county in a variety of ways. Significantly, the large subdivision conflicts with the county's long-term land-use plan that is designed to manage growth in the county through 2025. To date, county officials have been reluctant to alter that plan and endorse Newland's proposal.

Another crucial element, which also would require the support of the county, is the long-standing proposal to extend Dave Lyle Boulevard from Rock Hill into Lancaster County. While the extension has many boosters in addition to Newland, the developer has a special interest in a new stretch of highway that would run near its subdivision, offering easy access for residents. Newland has offered to provide $8 million to help pay for the extension, although that would be only a small fraction of the $120 million overall cost.

Newland also hopes the city would annex the subdivision and make water and sewer service available. The city, unlike the county, has indicated an interest in the plan, which would provide a new source of utility tax revenue and give city officials some control over the project.

But Newland also has proposed a fallback plan if deals with the city and county fail to materialize. And a week ago, Newland officials said they were now pursuing that abridged plan.

Instead of building a 2,700-home subdivision with city water and sewer service, they say they now will pursue a development consisting of fewer than 1,000 homes served by wells and septic tanks. That project also could forgo development of green areas, trails and a riverside park.

Newland officials no doubt are sincere when they say they intend to develop this prime property one way or another. Clearly, however, a retreat to the more modest development also is meant to pressure local government officials to rethink their opposition to the larger project.

But even if that is the case, we think the argument in favor of the larger development is valid. First and foremost, with the tract's proximity to the river, city water and sewer service would be far preferable to wells and septic tanks from an environmental standpoint.

The larger subdivision also would preserve and protect much of the most desirable wooded areas and green spaces that the coalition of environmental groups had sought to save. And, a riverfront park with public access would offer new recreational opportunities not only for nearby residents but also for residents throughout the county.

City and county officials could exercise much more influence over the master plan than over the alternative plan, which requires little in the way of local government approval. This, in fact, could be the last chance to help ensure that the development of a significant riverfront parcel near the Interstate 77 corridor is done right and with attention to the public good.

While the extension of Dave Lyle Boulevard is a crucial part of this package, it also can be justified on its own, apart from the Newland development. The extension has been part of the county's long-range transportation plan since 1989, and was approved as part of the first Pennies for Progress package, both long before Newland entered the picture.

We doubt that Newland is ready to give up entirely on its plans for a 2,700-home development. But we don't doubt that it is prepared at some point to go ahead with the smaller plan.

We hope local officials -- county officials in particular -- will reconsider their opposition to this plan. While their intention may be to ensure managed growth in eastern York County, blocking Newland's plan may achieve just the opposite.

IN SUMMARY

Newland Communities master plan may be best way to develop old Bowater property.

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