LAKE WYLIE — As York County Council last week voted down an amendment that could have set color requirements for commercial properties in much of Lake Wylie, some residents have questions. Among them, was the process fair?
On Oct. 1, Council voted 6-1 against the second reading of a color code ordinance that would have applied to the Lake Wylie area. Lake Wylie’s lone Council representative Bruce Henderson cast the minority vote. By not making a third reading, the ordinance was not reviewed by the planning commission and did not have a public hearing.
Nancy Mead said conversation in recent months with Henderson and county staff led residents to believe they’d have a public hearing and more say-so for what happens in their community. Last week’s move, she said, “gives the appearance of denying our community a voice in the process.”
“I want to know why Council is proposing to subvert the process that’s been laid out,” she said.
David McCorkle, Lake Wylie resident and member of the county planning commission, called the vote a “disrespect and double cross of dynamic proportion.” McCorkle said he was denied a copy of the ordinance because it hadn’t reached the public comment stage, yet later found emails where a copy of it had been distributed before the meeting to members of a group called GPS Conservatives for Action PAC.
McCorkle believes at least one council member violated county protocol by releasing the ordinance to the advocacy group “to set up their dog and pony show” and give the appearance much more opposition existed even if “an overwhelming majority” came from unaffected areas outside Lake Wylie.
County attorney Michael Kendree said there are no laws saying council members can’t share information before the public review stage. However, it isn’t generally done to help prevent problems prior to public presentation.
“I guess you could characterize it more as a policy,” Kendree said. “I don’t believe there is any violation occurring there.”
Bruce Henderson said he didn’t know about the ordinance being circulated until after the meeting, and that he had no part in it.
“Nobody leaked anything on this council,” he said.
Henderson added that anyone upset about the issue not coming to public hearing should remember that he voted for it to keep going.
“I did exactly what I said I was going to do,” he said.
Both sides of the argument were represented in the public comment period, where residents can address Council for up to two minutes at each meeting. Opposition used the opportunity last week to keep the amendment from a full public hearing. Supporters used it in place of one.
“God gave us all kinds of different colors because He loves diversity,” said Kay Bivens of Lake Wylie. “Who of us is to determine that a color is unacceptable to someone else?”
Bivens called the proposal “oppressive” and an attack on individual property rights. Fellow resident Margaret Blackwell said she wouldn’t choose bright colors, but she’d “defend their private property rights to do whatever color they so desire on their building.”
“Those are eye-catching colors they have chosen for their business and, trust me, they work,” she said of the Automoney Title Loans building on S.C. 49, whose green and yellow scheme sparked the color code debate. “Everybody in Lake Wylie knows their location.”
Bobby Meek, owner of the building, said the rule would send a message that business isn’t welcome in Lake Wylie or York County.
“It’s not about my building,” he said. “It’s really about what you’re doing, the potential you have, for business.”
Other residents took a different view. Mike Mason represented Lake Wylie Civic Association, which includes about 5,000 residents, with a plea for “thoughtful, reasonable standards” to be set.
“The board believes the use of shocking, invasive and overly bright colors and color mixes as the basic color schemes for commercial structures is not appropriate,” he said. “This is simply an attempt to turn a building into a sign.”
Don Long, representing Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce, recognized the argument for property rights, but said neighboring rights have to be considered, too.
“Property rights are extremely important,” he said. “They’re of great value. But with them comes responsibility.”
Now that the color code is dead, Council is looking at changes to avoid problems like with this ordinance, where residents feel they’re not getting an opportunity for input.
Council decisions currently require three readings. A public hearing generally is held at third reading. Council wants to change the format to allow for more time between the public hearing and their decision.
Council would like to put at least one meeting between first and second reading on an issue, which would allow the necessary time to hold a public hearing at second reading. That move, said county manager Jim Baker, should be a good option for allowing as much public input as possible.
“Oftentimes that’s not enough time to give notice on it,” he said. “That was not something we were able to do in this particular instance.”
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