Cluster development – Not now, maybe never

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J.R. Wilt

One of the major mistakes in development that has led to the difficult situation in Indian Land is the failure to anticipate and provide for the infrastructure required to support that development.
Developers build houses and houses become homes because people come to live in them. Those people need roads, traffic control, schools, libraries, water and sewers, police and fire protection and EMS and 911 services.
Until now, development has been pretty much hit or miss – landowner wants to sell, developer wants to build, make a deal and do it; worry about infrastructure and what the city will look like later.
The result is Indian Land – roads beat up and not taken care of, landscaping along U.S. 521 nearly nonexistent; fast food places and gasoline stations galore, but nary a good restaurant in sight; traffic bad and getting worse and no one available or responsible for making the situation any better.
Adding cluster developments to the developer’s list of things available to do will make this situation a lot worse because of the extremely large number of houses built on very small lots with a certain amount of community open space.
Developers love these because construction costs are much reduced with houses so close together – often only 10 feet apart. Because the total number of people living in a cluster development can be very large, however, infrastructure costs can be enormous.
Consider a 600-acre site with 200 acres in the public open space and 400 acres developed with 1,000 houses. In a family-oriented community, there could easily be 3,000 or more people and 2,500 cars in that 400 acres – less than 1 square mile. This is the population of a small town, adding about 4 percent to the population of the entire county.
These people need internal roads, yes, but they also need connections to a traffic network capable of taking them to work and home every day in comfort and safety. There are enough children to require a dedicated school, which will require about the same amount of space as the development itself.
Police, fire and EMS services will need to be nearby. Typically, there is no plan to provide any of these services, which could easily cost $50 million so the developer can sell $400 million worth of houses (1,000 at $400,000 each).
Lancaster County does not need this at this time. We have just committed to rework the comprehensive plan (again) and believe that it will require a year to complete this task.
The plan is to rewrite the Unified Development Ordinance the following year. We should be slowing down development until we can figure out what we should be doing, not committing to major new development techniques that will make the situation more difficult. We are behind the 8-ball now. Don’t make it worse.

J.R. Wilt is a Van Wyck resident.