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What started as a conversation about an amendment to the county’s new highway corridor overlay district instead sparked debate about how businesses should construct their buildings during Lancaster County Council’s meeting on Aug. 11.
The debate evolved as council members first discussed amending the overlay district, a tool which was put into place earlier this year to help create a uniform appearance to corridors leading into the county. The overlay district applies to properties along Charlotte Highway (U.S. 521) from Waxhaw Highway (S.C. 75) north to the state line, and Fort Mill Highway (S.C. 160) from U.S. 521 west to the Lancaster/York county line.
After reviewing the overlay district’s many guidelines and standards, some council members expressed concerns with a requirement that developers or property owners install multi-use paths near corridor right of ways. County Planning Director Penelope G. Karagounis explained to council that these 8-foot asphalt paths would have allowed for two-way traffic for walking or biking, though there had been concerns from council members and some residents about the path requirement.
Both councilmen Bob Bundy and Steve Harper told Karagounis earlier this summer they didn’t feel it should be the county’s responsibility to maintain the paths or require private owners to donate the easement to the county.
“There were some residents who were also worried, who felt it’d be a condemnation issue, but you see lots of places in the country are using these multi-use paths,” Karagounis said. “I think people were worried that the overlay would eventually expand south and there would be more regulations. They were vocal against more urbanized regulations coming south.”
Council was set to vote on a proposed amendment to delete the multi-use paths from the overlay description, but then the conversation took a sudden turn.
Shaking his head, councilman Larry Honeycutt expressed displeasure with the overlay district because it would allow businesses to construct their buildings with their backs facing the main highway.
To drive home his point, he used the example of pharmacy store Walgreens, whose motto is “At the corner of happy and healthy.”
“So, if Walgreens went in up there, its back would be facing the road? Is that gonna be on the corner of happy and healthy? I don’t think it will please Walgreens and Walgreens may not return to Lancaster County,” Honeycutt said. “It doesn’t look good.”
Approaching the podium to answer council’s questions was Brian Jenest of ColeJenest & Stone, a Charlotte-based consulting firm which helped develop the overlay district. He said the planning style has been used in many other locations, including Mt. Pleasant.
“They have a Publix that comes right up to the street,” Jenest said.
Despite the fact it’s used in other locations, Honeycutt said he still doesn’t support the style.
“I’d like to know that more people agree with you,” Honeycutt said.
In response, Jenest tried to explain the intricacies of where buildings are allowed to be constructed within the overlay district.
“You have a misunderstanding. We’re not backing it up to the road. There’s a lane that runs in front and the larger boxes (stores) will still sit back from the road,” Jenest said. “There are many, many, many examples where this works.”
Councilman Brian Carnes also commented on the concern, though he said the idea of constructing a building with its back to a main road is “nothing new.”
“If you drive up (U.S. 521), there is a shopping center that has smaller buildings along the road with signage on the back and awnings. There’s a lot of examples in our area. It’s not something new. It’s something developers have already started buying into,” Carnes said.
Jumping into the conversation was councilman Jack Estridge who agreed with Honeycutt about the visual style of such buildings.
“Personally, I don’t like it, the way it looks. If you ever have to widen the road, it’s a lot easier to tear up a parking lot then it is to tear up a building,” Estridge said.
Council then voted to approve first reading of the amended ordinance by a vote of 5-2, with Honeycutt and Estridge dissenting.
Council will consider second reading of the amendment during its Monday, Aug. 25, meeting.
A more pedestrian feel
Despite those concerns, Karagounis clarified this week the purpose of moving buildings closer to main roads.
She said the idea is to provide a “more pedestrian feel,” but said there are strict requirements for developers who choose this option.
“You can’t just have a brick wall. You’d have to have a storefront look on the back of the store,” she said. “It needs to look like a front, with windows or other features. It can’t just be a blank wall. There will be a streetscape, because developers realize it will be welcoming to walk to.”
Karagounis also addressed other concerns Honeycutt broached during the meeting, including where outdoor trash would be stored and where trucks would load and off-load.
“If there are garbage dumpsters, those will have to be screened,” she said. “And parking can be on the side and rear, with loading possibly pushed to the side of the building.”
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416