Use moratorium to plan smart growth

A temporary moratorium on residential construction in certain parts of York County would be neither the magic bullet to slow growth nor the economic disaster that some on both sides claim.

More likely, it would provide a reasonable breathing space to allow the council, members of other local governments, residents and businesses a chance to assess how much more growth the area around Lake Wylie can accommodate and to come up with reasonable ways to sustain the quality of life in the affected communities.

In February, County Councilman Michael Johnson of Fort Mill asked for such a proposal to be drawn up for consideration in early April. The council could take up that measure on first reading during its regular meeting Monday, which would be followed by a public hearing at a future date.

As initially proposed, the moratorium would freeze new housing for any unincorporated property in the Lake Wylie area and the area between the Catawba River and the North Carolina line. This represents one of the fastest growing sectors in South Carolina.

Johnson said he is fed up answering questions about why the council can’t do anything to limit growth. He also said he looks forward to giving constituents a chance to share their concerns with the entire council.

We sympathize. This is a heated topic in communities affected by the explosive growth, and the issue deserves a full hearing.

We understand concerns that a moratorium could be a “job killer” for the region. Developers could simply take their business elsewhere in the state or across the state line to North Carolina.

But we think the threat of uncontrolled, sprawling growth is a greater problem. While such growth might create economic opportunities for some, it also puts an enormous strain on school districts, roads and bridges, police, fire, medical and other public services.

Explosive growth also can decimate local green spaces and other parts of the natural environment. A growing population could affect the water quality of Lake Wylie, which is the primary source of drinking water for the region, and the shoreline surrounding the lake.

Of course, halting new residential building for a year or so is not a solution unto itself. The council needs to be looking at ways to regulate and steer growth while also finding affordable means to maintain infrastructure and meet the basic needs of residents.

For example, Councilwoman Christi Cox has suggested developing a new capital improvement plan and an ordinance requiring traffic impact analysis for a new projects. Both seem like sensible proposals.

The goal is not to stop growth in its tracks. The goal should be to create building standards and a sensible land-use plan that will encourage smart, sustainable growth for years to come without overwhelming existing communities.

We think a limited moratorium on residential construction could provide the opportunity to come up with a sensible balance between good growth and too much growth.