Rock Hill, York County need land for roads, leaders say

adouglas@heraldonline.comApril 28, 2014 

The U.S. 21 bridge over the Catawba River connects motorists bound for Rock Hill to the south and the Fort Mill area to the north.

ANDY BURRISS — aburriss@heraldonline.com

Facing a rapidly growing population, Rock Hill and York County need to get serious about setting aside large tracts of land for future road projects or creation of major commercial hubs, city and county leaders said Monday night.

Economic development and recruiting of new employers to York County took center stage when the York County Council and Rock Hill City Council met to brainstorm possible solutions.

The need to have land available to build employment centers overlaps with York County’s future transportation needs, said County Councilman Michael Johnson of Fort Mill. He cited a recent blow to the county and city’s hopes for a third bridge over the Catawba River to connect Fort Mill to Rock Hill.

The plan was nixed when a private developer bought the available road and bridge land in Fort Mill to build houses, he said.

“We’ve got to start drawing lines,” Johnson said.

Support is still strong for building a new bridge over the Catawba River, Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols said, but “the longer we wait, the more expensive it gets.”

After hearing planning officials on Monday describe the double-digit percentage population growth expected in York County by 2020, it’s clear “the demand is there,” Echols said. Many Rock Hill officials see the new bridge as a way to relieve heavy traffic on Celanese Road – the city’s busiest thoroughfare connecting drivers to Interstate 77.

York County has more than 239,000 residents, according to 2013 Census estimates – up from 226,000 in 2010.

Planning officials say the number will continue to rise. Building permit records show the county’s residential and commercial development sectors boasting “pre-recession” numbers – a sign of a rebounding economy.

By 2020, officials predict, York County will have a population of at least 270,000.

That growth brings challenges, said David Pettine, the county’s planning and development director. His presentation Monday highlighted increasing road needs, the need to balance residential building with commercial investments, and the strategy of countering urban sprawl with infill development.

Rock Hill is pursuing infill development by using “small-area plans” concentrated on Cherry Road, city senior planner Leah Youngblood said. Through surveys of business owners and residents, city officials have found a desire for more consistent building rules and business regulations along Cherry Road.

Some parts of the busy commercial strip – which stretches from I-77 to Heckle Boulevard – are “doughnut holes,” Pettine said, referring to unincorporated areas surrounded by the city.

York County and Rock Hill could take inventory of such “doughnut holes” along Cherry Road and other streets, Pettine said, and consider whether new policies are needed to ensure consistency.

Though new roads are often built to accommodate development in areas outside existing residential or commercial hubs, infill strategies and redevelopment of land demand a plan for adequate road maintenance, many officials said.

To meet repaving and pothole repair needs, York County might need a program solely for road maintenance modeled after “Pennies for Progress,” County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell said. The county’s road-building program is paid for with a penny sales tax.

Future updates to Pennies – which would require voter approval – could include an additional penny tax for road maintenance, some have said, using half of the current one-cent tax for maintenance.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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