Year in Review

Top newsmakers of 2012 at Lake Wylie

December 31, 2012 

1. Lakeside West opens

After years of sitting vacant, the “eyesore” Waterside Market Place on S.C. 49 is now bustling with business. York Development Group changed the name to Wylie Gateway on the Lake before later settling on Lakeside West before the first business, Lake Wylie Branch YMCA, opened April 1 in a 10,000-square-foot space at 4036 Charlotte Hwy., suite 109. “We were excited about having something so close to home,” said Jean Hojnacki of Lake Wylie following yoga class the first week. Even before the opening, the branch held a community event, a Zumbathon March 31 to raise money for YMCA’s financial assistance campaign. The new facility has a group fitness studio, cycling studio, cardio theater room with about 10 pieces of equipment and a large television, and a large cardio room with equipment and weights and TVs. Free child care also is available. Linda McCallum, director of the Lake Wylie and Clover YMCA branches, said the YMCA niche is different than the other two Lake Wylie fitness centers, which each have their own unique offerings. “Anytime Fitness is open 24 hours and Sportscenter has racquet ball,” she said. “The Y is a true family facility for children to senior adults.” A nail salon service, i-Color Nail Bar, opened next door in June.

The next to open were QuikTrip and Lake Wylie Bowl N’ Bounce in the summer.

Construction for the largest tenant of the new Lakeside West development, Lake Wylie Bowl N’ Bounce, began early in the year on the 26,500-square-foot center in the former Food Lion location. Owned by Darrin Skinner of Steele Creek, it opened July 16 featuring a bowling alley with 16 lanes, televisions and food service, and a jump play area for children.

Opening just a couple days later was QuikTrip convenience store and gas station fronting Charlotte Highway. What started as a controversy in the new year when 17 mature cherry trees were removed in December 2011 for the construction of the store, ended when trees were planted and the station with pumps opened.

Scheduled to open next is an Asian fusion restaurant, Cherry, in 3,000-square-foot space that was formerly a Chinese restaurant. Initially scheduled to open in August, it’s now scheduled to open by the New Year.

Despite requests for a traffic light to be installed in the 35 mph roadway near QuikTrip, the developer said a study needs to be done and decided on by the state department of transportation. Crowders Creek Elementary school saw the installation of a light, operational during school traffic hours.

Earlier this month, Marleea Sabol-Hall of Lake Wylie announced she will manage the paint shop, Sherwin-Williams, opening in the end location at the shopping center and will employ four people.

“We’re shooting for mid-December,” she said. “We don’t have a concrete date.”

Between Bowl N’ Bounce and the YMCA will be Fuzzy Peach Frozen Yogurt Bar planned to open around February 2013. Tom Maskell, director of franchising with the Wilmington, N.C., company, said the Lake Wylie shop will be its farthest expansion to date. Fuzzy Peach has eight locations in the Carolinas and plans for eight more, including sites in Fort Mill and Rock Hill in addition to Lake Wylie.

2. Commercial color code

In August, the new tenant at 4573 Charlotte Hwy., caused a stir when the Automoney Title Loan business painted the leased building yellow and green, including the shingled roof. Lake Wylie residents requested York County Council consider creating a commercial color code along the S.C. 49 corridor in its unincorporated community governed by the county. It would have been a first for such an ordinance in the county.

“It’s going to take some thinking through and making sure we find a balance between promoting the business efforts that we continue to promote, and at the same time meet the community’s needs,” said Dave Pettine, county planning director.

Pettine addressed Council at its Aug. 20 meeting about possible rules determining what color schemes or design standards should be used in Lake Wylie. The request was initiated following a community meeting where many residents complained to county staff about recent business appearances, particularly the Automoney Title Loans’ paint scheme.

“The people I represent, I want to represent their vision,” said Councilman Bruce Henderson, who represents Lake Wylie.

The company’s employees said the bright building draws in customers, and no county rules were violated. The county agreed.

Still, county staff requested when new business moves in, their appearance won’t be one that “isn’t within the community’s character,” Pettine said. The county has options for restricting color choices if the community wants restrictions. In this case only commercial buildings would be impacted.

Council Chairman Britt Blackwell applauded county staff and the community working together.

“It’s nice to see we do have flexibility [in] certain areas of the county to meet those requested needs,” he said.

York County Council approved the first reading of an ordinance to set up color and design standards for commercial properties along S.C. 49 in Lake Wylie and require existing businesses to fit in. Still, members said their voting was aimed at bringing the issue to public hearing, not necessarily endorsing it.

“To me it is the first step down a long, dark road of continuing to take freedom away from businesses based on somebody’s opinion,” said Councilman Eric Winstead. He said businesses need “whatever competitive advantage to survive” and residents have an option when they pass the building - “look away.”

But other nearby municipalities were looking at the county’s decision, too. York, for instance, was considering a similar plan within its city limits.

But on Oct. 1, Council voted 6-1 (Henderson the lone supporter) against the second reading of a color code ordinance. 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 the move “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.”

David McCorkle of Lake Wylie and member of the county planning commission, said at least one council member violated county protocol by releasing the ordinance to an advocacy group and giving the appearance more opposition existed even if “an overwhelming majority” came from unaffected areas outside Lake Wylie.

But others disagreed.

“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?”

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.”

The concern is an important one, Henderson said, and isn’t unique to Automoney. Signs along the corridor also had been a recent issue. “They were tolerant enough to deal with one or two, but when it started to be a snowball effect, it was time to get involved,” he said.

Council did pass the second of three needed readings to change the county sign ordinance, where several businesses had been cited in August. Temporary signs would only be allowed to be 16 square feet, and can be displayed only from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. or the close of business, whichever comes first.

Chappell echoed similar sentiment about another issue at Lake Wylie, business signs along roadways.

“I resent the government telling me what I can put up to advertise my place, on my property,” he said. “When you do that, whether you know it or not, you’re signing away your freedom.”

It was the sign issue, in fact, that some residents argued the color code for.

“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,” said Mike Mason, representing Lake Wylie Civic Association, which includes about 5,000 residents. “This is simply an attempt to turn a building into a sign.”

While Council killed the color code ordinance, it did raise questions about providing residents with opportunity for input. Council decisions currently require three readings. A public hearing generally is held at the 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.”

3. Ambulance wars

York County officials in March began planning changes to how emergency calls are dispatched in an effort to curb ambulances from racing each other to patients and the dollars they pay for services.

Under the county’s current system, dispatchers call on two ambulances to respond to every call – one from Piedmont Medical Center’s for-profit ambulance service, which contracts with the county to provide EMS services, and one from the county’s nonprofit rescue squads, such as River Hills/Lake Wylie EMS, run on community donations and billing patient’s insurance only when applicable.

Recognizing the threat of racing ambulances and feeling pressure from the state, the county began work to create contracts with the squads and purchase new software to allow the county to pinpoint ambulances, position them strategically and dispatch the unit closest to an emergency call. Included in the 2012-2013 budget, the $175,000 system was approved mid-year and is now up and running.

When the county began dispatching calls to Piedmont Medical Center and the rescue squads in 1995, the two had a different relationship: crews ate lunch together, rode on calls together and sometimes loaned each other equipment. Piedmont’s contract with the county requires the hospital to “cooperate and coordinate” with the rescue squads. But now “dual dispatch” leads to units racing each other to arrive on scene first, earning the right to treat the patient and collect payment, turning emergency response into a competition for dollars.

The competition occurs mostly in the Fort Mill and Lake Wylie areas, where the rescue squads have grown from all-volunteer to crews that now have multiple ambulances, some full-time paid employees and scores of volunteers.

In a Jan. 30 letter to all York County EMS agencies, Henry Lewis, EMS coordinator for S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said the agency had received complaints of “patient coercion, delay in patient care, and circumvention of the existing 911 system,” he wrote.

The complaints were “not from patients” – they were from EMS agencies against other agencies.

River Hills Rescue director Dick Mann explained one of the instances was related to the River Hills squad giving an assisted living facility a cell phone number to call the squad’s ambulance parked in its lot.

“Just because we were there so frequently, it was easier for them to call us on their cell phone,” Mann said. “That has been construed by others that we were attempting to circumvent the 911 center.”

Mann has since agreed with DHEC the practice isn’t appropriate.

A solution to give Piedmont temporary control over which ambulances get dispatched to calls was met with resistance. Under the proposal, when York County dispatches calls, sending out two ambulances, a supervisor at Piedmont will determine which is closer. The one that’s farther away will cancel, Moore said.

“You can make numbers say anything you want them to say,” Mann said. “If you take it out of the hands of (Piedmont) and give those routers to dispatchers in Rock Hill, I trust them. They are not beholden to anybody.”

“There’s an extreme amount of distrust on both sides of the table,” said Tim McMichael, assistant director of Fort Mill Rescue.

The issues have not been resolved in 2012, and York County Council meeting in December pushed any decisions into 2013.

4. Community Cafe closing

The Community Cafe, which served free lunch on Wednesdays with community fellowship since 2010, was told in April it had 60 days to move the operation from the River Hills Community Church fellowship hall. The 40 volunteers served the last meal there May 23.

Don Murfin, head chef and organizer with The Community Cafe, was given a letter April 3 saying his group had 60 days to vacate the church facility, off Hamilton’s Ferry Road.

“Our core value is not just to feed people’s physical needs, but emotional and spiritual needs,” Murfin said.

The church made the decision to allow for more music, training and Christian education programs before and after its Wednesday evening meal, saying it the schedule conflicted with the cafe’s use of the kitchen. Church leaders said the agreed upon arrangement when the cafe became a nonprofit group was either party could terminate the facility use agreement with 60 days notice.

Roger Underwood, interim pastor for the church, said he hoped the new programs and meal service Wednesday evenings – also open to the public – would help in the church’s goal of being “a community of faith that’s trying to help this community be all it can be.”

“I wish them well in whatever they do and wherever they go,” Underwood said of the cafe. “I hope the community can continue to enjoy that.”

The cafe, with about 40 volunteers, was no longer affiliated with the church, though it began there as an idea of, among others, then-associate pastor Kenny Ashley.

“It’s a mixed bag,” Murfin said. “I have people from churches down in Rock Hill and Fort Mill helping out.”

The cafe runs completely on donations.

But the cafe, which opened a similar model of community fellowship dining in June 2011 at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Fort Mill serving dinners on Wednesdays, began looking for a new home. The combined cafes served more than 40,000 free meals since January 2010. Both the Lake Wylie and Fort Mill locations serve in-house, but also deliver to shut-ins or charitable groups, senior centers and others. This year alone, the Lake Wylie location boasted about 4,300 free meals served.

“There are two churches we’re talking to,” said Don Murfin, head chef at The Community Cafe said at the time.

By July 27, The Community Cafe had found and opened in a new home, serving free lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays, at Lake Wylie Lutheran Church in Fort Mill.

Rammy Lybrand, pastor at Lake Wylie Lutheran, read about the cafe searching for a home and saw the ministry as “something we could not allow to not continue.”

“I knew this was our calling,” Lybrand said.

The end of September it was announced, The Community Cafe would also be coming back to Lake Wylie. The Lake Wylie Christian Assembly board voted to begin serving free lunches from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays at the church, 5766 Charlotte Hwy.

“We felt like it would be great for the community to feed people, and for people who need connection and fellowship,” said Associate Pastor Billy Ginn. “It also will give us an opportunity to meet people in our community, and hopefully, just to serve people.”

The gymnasium can seat up to 500. For information, call 803-548-5489 or 330-289-1243.

Community Cafe meals are free, but donations are accepted. The cost per meal served is about $1. For more information, visit communitycafecares.com.

The Lake Wylie cafe is now scheduled to open Jan. 22.

5. Children’s Charity changes

It was announced in April that what began a decade ago as a children’s charity for local families by Lake Wylie neighbors would continue under a different name.

Marking the 10th annual Justin Mychals Child Cancer Benefit in Lake Wylie, the event changed its name to Lake Wylie Children’s Charity. The new group isn’t specifically writing pediatric cancer into its bylaws, instead allowing for other children facing severe or life-threatening illnesses to be eligible.

“It’s the same organization of people,” said organizer Marshall Feimster. “It’s just under more of a local charity.”

Similar fundraising events – including the annual golf tournament, poker run and Captain Clueless Race for the Cup boating scavenger hunt – continued.

The process for selecting recipient families also remained the same. This year’s recipient, announced in May, was Luke Moore, 3, of Lake Wylie who has leukemia. Haven Presley, organizer with Lake Wylie Children’s Charity, said “It’s a cool story. We’re partnering this year with New River Community Church. As it turns out, they have a single mom in their church who has a child battling cancer.”

The fall fundraiser concert, silent auction and more was held Sept. 23 at Buster Boyd Access Area. It raised more than any year, more than $49,000.

Anytime Fitness also joined the effort this year to raise money for LWCC by holding the first 5K event in November.

In 2003, Mychals, a Lake Wylie area resident and performing musician, gathered friends to organize and play a concert for the family of Dakota Gay, following his brain cancer diagnosis. The proceeds helped Dakota’s family pay for medical costs. After that concert scores of volunteers and musicians committed to more events, leading to an annual fall fundraiser for a local child facing cancer. In 2009, the benefit helped two families. More fundraisers, like walk-a-thons, car washes, yard sales and golf tournaments, were added to supplement the concert. Another Justin Mychals event was started on Lake Norman. But with Mychals now living in Murrells Inlet and the benefit taking a more regional approach, Lake Wylie volunteers want to refocus the event to the place where it started.

“They certainly have been doing the event there and doing it well,” said Mychals, who is planning to start a similar benefit at the beach. “The volunteers there are the reason it’s done so well, and the people that come. The community is the reason.”

As it applies for nonprofit status, Lake Wylie Children’s Charity will partner with New River Community Church to accept donations.

“The Lake Wylie area has been so good to New River, and we are just so grateful to be a part of this community,” said Jesse Bowles, connections pastor. “We are constantly looking for ways we can serve our community with the love and grace of Jesus. We hope that building strong relationships with other community organizations will give us more opportunities to do that.”

There are no hard feelings between Lake Wylie’s organizers and Mychals.

In fact, Presley said, the first donation this year came from Mychals.

“Justin Mychals and the volunteers here started something really special, and he wanted to see the work here continue,” she said.

For more information about Lake Wylie Children’s Charity, visit lkwchildrenscharity.org.

6. Planning Lake Wylie’s future

Crowders Creek Elementary School’s multi-purpose room was standing room only June 26 as more than 150 residents came out for the first of several public meetings held by York County Planning and Development leaders to consider a new land-use plan for Lake Wylie. Residents also were asked to take an online survey, which more than 550 people did.

“We’re putting the power with y’all,” said county planning director David Pettine.

Currently, there is a countywide comprehensive plan, but the area plan in Lake Wylie is the “first of its kind” for the county planning department. The effort was encouraged by community members concerned about everything from traffic to architectural standards. Lake Wylie has a “less restrictive” overlay district for the [Highway] 49 corridor as a buy-right development, meaning if land is zoned commercial, no additional approvals are needed. The current comprehensive zoning plan was last updated in 2004.

“We are looking for tools to do a better job keeping growth in check,” Pettine said. “Really, we’re here to listen and let you know we’re here for the community.”

Due to the economy and a slowdown in development throughout the county, Pettine said planning staff was able to turn attention to Lake Wylie. The main reason, he said, is because of the 92.79 percent growth rate in the unincorporated Lake Wylie area in the 2010 U.S. Census, the highest in the county and “arguably the highest in the state.” York County’s growth rate by comparison was 37.34 percent.

The Lake Wylie area of roughly 11,000 acres is bordered by the lake on the east; Gaston County to the north; Mill Creek, along with Stateline, Oakridge and Bethel School roads to the west; and Liberty Hill Road to the south. The population within those boundaries nearly doubled to about 12,000 residents from 2000 to 2010. In that same span, nearly 40 percent of the rural land there was converted to urban use.

“It’s really the most unique area of all the unincorporated areas of York County,” said Steve Allen, planning manager. “You’ve got a place that resembles a town, but it’s unincorporated.”

In recent years, projects such as Mill Creek Commons and Lakeside West came in, not requiring public approval since they met zoning requirements in the unincorporated area. Late last year, when trees were removed along S.C. 49 near QuikTrip as part of the development, community members were upset they weren’t aware of what was going on.

A second public meeting was held in August to reveal the survey results. At the Aug. 16 meeting held at Oakridge Middle School, one that heard constant complaints on color choices and sign placements at new businesses, staff reported 850 responses to the online survey designed to help planners coordinate what the community wants moving forward – where it wants development, where homes should be, what amenities are needed. This was at least a couple hundred more surveys than staff expected to gather.

During the study process, the participation area grew by 6,000 acres to 17,000. Results showed several trends. About 32 percent or respondents work in the Charlotte area with 25 percent retired, compared to 9 percent working within the Lake Wylie study area (which doesn’t include self-employed or home office). Yet 80 percent shop for necessary goods and services in the area, compared to 46 percent shopping in the RiverGate or Steele Creek area and less than 25 percent anywhere else.

Traffic, environmental problems and sprawling development were the top three community growth concerns. Proximity to urban areas, quality of local schools and nearness of the airport in Charlotte were the top three positives. The biggest weaknesses were not enough park/public space, high density zoning and lack of alternative transportation, which mirrored the top desired improvements.

Nearly 80 percent of responses don’t want heavy industrial development anywhere in the area and another 8 percent only want it on the westernmost fringes. Mixed-use development, professional office space and pedestrian/bicycle paths should be spaced throughout the area, according to the most responses.

By late this year or early next, the idea is to have a community plan ready for review by York County Council.

The effort in Lake Wylie is similar to work recently completed across Buster Boyd Bridge. Charlotte City Council in the spring approved the Steele Creek Area Plan, which impacts about 35,000 residents on 27,000 acres. That area is bordered by Shopton Road on the north, I-485 on the east, northern Lake Wylie on the west and York County on the south. The Steele Creek plan met late resistance, and took about three years to complete.

Following this year’s final meeting in November, Lake Wylie residents still asked: Will it make a difference?

York County planning staff showed off a land-use plan to a packed media center crowd at Oakridge Middle School. Yet, staff warned, a planning guide isn’t a regulatory document. The plan sets goals of creating an identity for Lake Wylie, protecting the environment, improving traffic flow, adding recreation, steering development and more – all through proper land use.

Residents argued the latest plan doesn’t accomplish much if it can’t regulate what is built where in Lake Wylie. The frustrations of many could be handled through more local control, said York County Councilman Bruce Henderson.

“There’s always incorporation,” he said.

Additional community meetings before presenting it to Council were possible. The current land-use recommendation is available on the planning department tab at yorkcountygov.com.

7. Bethel Fire Station

In January, Bethel Volunteer Fire Department took a new direction. Newly elected Chief Michael Laws replaced long-time leader Don Love earlier in the month, one of several changes for the 54-member unit.

Laws, 29, represents a youth movement for the department. His experience includes a degree in fire science, training from the South Carolina Fire Academy and 10 years with Bethel. He also works for the county Department of Fire Safety.

“My main goal for the fire department is family focus,” Laws said. “My No. 2 goal is solidarity, everybody being on the same page.”

Capt. Scott Boyd credited Love for increasing membership by 25 percent and moving from one certified training officer to five. In four years, changes at Bethel have included the public passing of a special fire tax district multiplying the department’s budget, the addition of four paid firefighters, new equipment and lowering the department’s Insurance Service Organization rating, which lowers insurance costs for homeowners throughout the service area. Love remained on as one of four paid firefighters hired.

Bethel leadership’s goal at the time was to begin work further lowering Lake Wylie’s ISO number, fire prevention outreach, meeting with homeowner associations and making the three fire stations public meeting places. They also wanted more second shift volunteers.

New leadership at Bethel Volunteer Fire Department includes Chief Michael Laws, Assistant Chief Chris Hybarger, Capt. Scott Boyd (also training officer), Lt. Ronnie Fortner, Lt. Gene Baird, Lt. Cory Cronin, Treasurer Keith Griffis and Secretary Lewis Quinn. The new Board of Directors includes Chairman Josh Solomon, Bill Johnston, Perry Johnston and Mike Williams.

York County Council in March heard plans for a major overhaul at Bethel Station 1 located at 5600 Hwy. 557. Council also heard the rationale for a Bethel Volunteer Fire Department using a new method to pick the contractor who will do it.

Tim Sievers, member of the department’s building committee and board chairman of its fire tax district, said the station built at Bethel’s founding in 1966 isn’t adequate for current service needs.

“It was basically an oversized, two-car garage with a meeting room attached to it,” he said.

Station 1 has had five additions, and members often travel a maze of doorways to get around existing equipment. The converted oil truck and pumper the station was built to house are “about half the size” of the vehicles that now leave only 6 inches on either side to the wall. When a grass truck arrived in 2010, a restroom had to be relocated so that it would fit.

They’re hoping to put up a new 10,000-square-foot building with 10 bays, including 4,000 square feet for meetings, training and offices. It will include a kitchen and will house the current fleet of a tanker, engine, grass truck and ladder truck.

Bethel’s fire tax district will fund the estimated $1.7-$2.4 million project.

8. Garden Parkway stalled

It’s a North Carolina decision on a North Carolina parkway, but it’s bound for a Lake Wylie impact, too. Voices for and against the Garden Parkway ratcheted up discussion in May heading into primary day in North Carolina, just months ahead of the next major steps toward finalizing the toll road from Gastonia to the airport in Charlotte.

In March, both the Gaston Regional and Montcross chambers of commerce endorsed the project. Limited river crossings constraining travel between Gaston and Mecklenburg counties limits overall economic growth, they stated. The chambers also projected about 18,000 jobs in Gaston County during the next 25 years, and more than 2,000 jobs during construction.

“The parkway will link southern Gaston to the booming airport area in Charlotte and enable Gaston County to participate in the job growth our neighbors across the river have enjoyed for decades,” said Ted Hall, president of the Montcross Area Chamber of Commerce, which includes more than 330 Belmont area businesses.

Yet not everyone is sold. Online citizen group stopthetollroad.com continues its opposition of the project, forming a political action committee. They’ve called for pledges from local and state candidates, listing stances on the toll road online heading into the May 8 primaries. The group claims that 64-77 percent of Gaston County residents oppose the road.

“The toll road is not a done deal,” said Marion Beach, group treasurer.

A point that isn’t being argued is York County will be affected if the new road is built. Opponents point to North Carolina Turnpike Authority material from earlier planning stages saying about 600 jobs would be created below the state line rather than above it. The Charlotte Observer, the Pilot’s sister paper, reported a Federal Highway Administration official “dismissed” the study cited by chambers of commerce and television commercials claiming that most of the economic impact would come to North Carolina.

Plus, there’s the issue of infrastructure.

Before last year’s Pennies for Progress vote, which approved a one-cent sales tax in York County to fund 52 miles of road construction at $161 million, project engineer Phil Leazer said the Garden Parkway would alleviate congestion by providing another route for Gaston County traffic to get to Charlotte. It also would allow York County residents another direct access to the airport in Charlotte, he said.

“This has the capabilities of being a huge transportation improvement for the entire area,” Leazer said.

Leazer also spoke of a need to have York County roads in place when the parkway opens. Of the 25 projects on last year’s Pennies vote, the most expensive was a more than $25 million improvement to create a five-lane roadway on Pole Branch Road to the North Carolina line. The 2.4-mile project is the most direct route from Lake Wylie to where the Garden Parkway would be built.

Plans at the time were for the 22-mile, $930 million parkway to approve construction permits and financing plans by summer, and begin land acquisition later this year. Construction was planned to begin in mid-2013 with the road opening in 2015.

However, The Southern Environmental Law Center the end of August filed suit on behalf of conservation groups in United States District Court challenging the environmental review for the controversial Garden Parkway toll highway.

“The negative impact of the Garden Parkway to Lake Wylie, the South Fork and its wetlands cannot be overstated,” said Lakekeeper Ellen Goff of Lake Wylie. “These public waterways are critical to area residents, local municipalities and commercial concerns, providing drinking water and supporting a robust water recreation economy. The waters of the Catawba River basin must be protected from projects that would irrevocably degrade them.”

The Catawba Riverkeeper and Clean Air Carolina say the North Carolina Turnpike Authority and the Federal Highway Administration performed a defective analysis of the proposed toll road and presented a misleading picture of the costs and benefits of the project.

“The proposed toll road would significantly increase pollution of the Catawba River, particularly Lake Wylie, as a result of construction activities, run-off from the highway and increased sprawl,” said Catawba Riverkeeper Richard Gaskins. “Lake Wylie already has problems with trash, sediment and various pollutants, and the proposed toll road would make the situation much worse.”

The lawsuit came just months after conservation groups were successful in challenging the Monroe Bypass, another North Carolina Turnpike Authority Project.

The conservation groups say the North Carolina Turnpike Authority has failed to show construction of the road will improve congestion on existing roadways, such as I-85, and could shift job growth out of state to South Carolina.

In May, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rebuked the Authority after finding it had made fundamental blunders in its environmental review and repeatedly misrepresented key facts to the public.

“Once again, the N.C. Turnpike Authority has failed to be honest with the public,” said senior attorney Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The agency has not explained why the taxpayers and their children are being saddled with generations of debt to pay for this destructive leviathan that serves none of the purposes claimed by the project proponents.”

For information, visit SouthernEnvironment.org or catawbariverkeeper.org or cleanaircarolina.org.

9. More police presence

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s new 12,500-square-foot Steele Creek Division headquarters opened the end of summer holding a grand opening a month later in September, to not conflict with the Democratic National Convention. The new facility at the intersection of Westinghouse Boulevard and South Tryon Street, is part of the department’s effort to increase its visibility.

Police Chief Rodney Monroe noted the importance of being able to drive by a police station to see the presence of officers in the community.

“This is something for all of us. It’s not just for the police department,” Monroe told the crowd gathered for the grand opening of the Steele Creek headquarters.

Steele Creek is the third CMPD division, following the Metro and Providence divisions, to open a free-standing office building.

The Steele Creek Division covers about 60 square miles in the southwest area of the county, bordering part of Lake Wylie.

The division’s commander, Capt. Allan Rutledge, said police and city officials settled on the location because it has high visibility and traffic. It’s also centralized in the division, promoting accessibility to residents and allowing officers to get where they need to be quickly.

The division’s former office, located by the Charlotte Police and Fire Training Academy on Shopton Road, is now used as office space.

Residents welcomed their neighbor, dropping off cookies and cakes.

The facility houses 100 officers and police staff, is equipped with conference rooms, locker rooms, offices, interview rooms and a fitness room with weights and a treadmill. There’s also a 1,000-square-foot garage to store equipment, such as bicycles and all-terrain vehicles.

At the front of the building is an aluminum sculpture titled “Canopy” by artist and University of North Carolina at Greensboro art professor Billy Lee. The sculpture, courtesy of the Arts & Science Council and the Public Art Commission, depicts a tree, “one of the oldest symbols suggesting stability, shelter and protection, which is appropriate for a police station,” Lee wrote.

The entire project cost $7 million, with $4.1 million in construction costs, officials said.

Charles Hodges, a developer of the nearby Ayrsley community, said the new police station will likely spark development in the Steele Creek area.

“The economic benefit of this is tremendous,” he said.

10. Laney School demolition

A River Hills group in April asked York County Council for $200,000 to help save what they called an historic Lake Wylie school house. The 1,650-square-foot building, located on the property Good Samaritan United Methodist Church off Charlotte Highway, was going to be demolished.

River Hills resident Don Long and others eager to save the building were forming a nonprofit group to preserve the building, which they believed to be the Laney School, built in 1914. The money would help the Laney School Preservation Project move the school house from its location to land owned by the River Hills Community Association, and refurbish it for public events and meetings and a museum detailing the history of the Lake Wylie area.

The history of the lake is “very important,” Long said. “There’s no place to demonstrate that right now.”

The money would come from a county grant funded through the hospitality taxes used “to provide financial assistance for tourism projects, which substantially increase overnight travel and day visits to York County.”

Long said the move would cost about $26,000, which included moving utilities. Refurbishing the building will cost $176,658.

The hospitality tax committee overseeing the grants approved the application, except for a request the group made for $9,300 annually over 10 years for general operations.

Long said moving and renovating the schoolhouse would cost less than building a new structure, and would save a piece of Lake Wylie’s history.

About a month after the request, the group was running out of time. The church planned to move forward with plans to demolish the schoolhouse and another building located on its property, something Pastor Jason Everson said had been in the church’s plans for a while. In fact, for several years, a sign reading “Free Homes” sat in front of the vacant buildings.

“They’re basically eyesores, and they’re blocking the view of our property,” he said. “We don’t need them anymore.”

After a meeting with York County officials, the church applied for a demolition permit.

Meanwhile, a committee of the county’s tourism bureau endorsed the project and recommended County Council approve the project’s $26,000 first phase to move the building, and consider approving the remaining dollars for renovation at a later date. But having questions about the project, Council tabled the proposal until its next meeting. Long and group then decided to address concerns from River Hills Community Association, where Long serves on the board.

“I understand they have a deadline, but at the same time I wish the church would work with us,” said Margarett Blackwell who joined the preservation group.

Researchers at the McCelvey Center in York, part of York County’s Culture and Heritage Museums, found documents showing the Laney School was built in 1914. It had been used as a school for more than a decade before being consolidated with other schools. From the photograph, the building resembled the one standing today, except there were enclosures, likely cloak rooms, in the photograph where there is now an open porch.

Although Long and group couldn’t understand the church’s rush to demolish the buildings the following week, Everson said they tried to give the buildings away and despite a lot of interest, none of the plans worked out. The county, in fact, thought about moving both buildings to a recreation site for use there, but considering the costs, decided against it, County Manager Jim Baker said.

The church also invested “a significant amount of money” in moving forward with demolishing them since attempts to move the buildings have failed.

“These buildings have been designated for removal for three years as many in the community well know,” Everson said.

The buildings were demolished May 9.

“You can’t tear down a Laney School and build a new one. Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Long said.

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