Conditional zoning seen as ‘win-win’ for York County

jzou@heraldonline.comMarch 15, 2014 

In an effort to create more “win-win” situations when it comes to rezoning requests, the York County Council will likelyallowconditional approvals as a way to strike a balance between preserving existing communities and fostering development.

A new conditional zoning designation, which is scheduled for a vote Monday , would allow the 7-member council to “prevent or minimize adverse impacts upon property or the environment,” according to a memo by York County Planning and Development Director Dave Pettine.

The proposed change would allow the council to place requirements or limitations on a property in the county’s unincorporated areas as a condition of rezoning.

This could include measures as simple as requiring developers to conserve green space, or as specific as limiting the hours of operations for businesses, or prohibiting building or parking-lot construction in particular areas.

While the option doesn’t yet exist, it’s already become a popular idea with some council members. The council has deferred two rezoning requests until after conditional zoning becomes available, despite staff recommendations that conditional rezoning be used in a limited matter and not as a panacea to “address every rezoning request.”

Councilman Joe Cox recently heard concerns from a group of residents during a March 3 rezoning hearing that would open a residential section of Old York Road to general business development for a Dollar General store.

“You have to have a sweet spot of commercial and residential,” said Cox, who spoke in favor of allowing the business to rezone, despite residents’ concerns regarding traffic and future development. “The Dollar General is not a bad product, it’s an amenity.”

Opposed to the the rezoning was Vernon Prosser,president of a local homeowners association and superintendent of York School District. Prosser cited congestion and “less desirable businesses” relocating to the area in the future as negative consequences of the rezoning.

Cox said the same parcel would generate more than five times the amount of property taxes for the county and local school system as a business site than as a single-family housing area.

The request has been deferred until after the council considers conditional zoning.

Another request to rezone a single-family district to a general business district by a convenience station owner currently located on Mount Gallant Road in Rock Hill was also deferred on Feb. 17.

The new designation would allow the convenience store to expand, but may open up the area to large-scale commercial and business development if the current owner vacates the lot.

Chairman Britt Blackwell said the Mount Gallant request is an opportunity for the council to use conditional zoning to restrict the types of future businesses.

“You want to be accommodating to business, but at the same time you want to make sure you don’t affect, in a negative way, the surrounding residential neighborhood,” said Blackwell. “Everybody can win,” he said.

Not a Standard

Proposed development in the booming areas of Fort Mill and Lake Wylie have resulted in some of the more contentious rezoning requests considered by the council in the past year as residents complained of clogged roadways and overcrowded school districts.

On Feb. 17, the council unanimously rejected rezoning a planned development district to a single-family district in Fort Mill. The rezoning would allow developers to construct more than 100 houses near Stone Village Drive.

After backlash from homeowners, councilman Michael Johnson voted against rezoning , citing already strained traffic in the area. Johnson said he received 40 to 50 emails in a single weekend opposing the change.

In matters of rezoning, the council tends to vote as a block, based on the parcel’s location. “We tend to just respect the councilman for that district,”Blackwell said.

The council considers rezoning requests during its biweekly meetings. Each request must be passed by a council majority on three separate readings to be approved. The county’s planning commission also makes recommendations to council.

In the case of the rejected Fort Mill development, both staff and the planning commission had recommendedrezoning.

Conditional zoning is used by planners in neighboring Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, said Mary Newsom, associate director of urban and regional affairs of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Urban Institute.

Newsom said conditional approvals give planners in Charlotte more fine-tuned control over how developments are built, but may add roadblocks to those hoping to construct more complex projects.

According to a county memo any conditions approved by the council can only be changed by the council – not by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The Planning Commission and Pettine will work with the council to suggest when conditional zoning can be helpful in guiding development that complies with the county’s comprehensive plan, which sets a long-term vision for the county’s growth.

The county’s comprehensive plan was last updated in 2004, which sought to temper the county’s booming urban centers with its rural west. County Manager Bill Shanahan has started work on updating the plan, which will be based on more current population growth projections and forecast development for the next 10 years.

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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