Council approves joining urban planning group

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Panhandle growth necessitates change

By Chris Sardelli

With urbanized clusters now springing up in the Panhandle, Lancaster County Council discussed the future of highway funding in that area during its first meeting of the year Monday, Jan. 14.

County Administrator Steve Willis said due to Indian Land’s burgeoning population, as reflected in the 2010 Census, several stretches of the area are now designated as urban by the Catawba Regional Council of Governments (COG).

As such, Wills said those areas no longer qualify for rural highway funding through COG, like the rest of Lancaster County.

This funding must now go through a metropolitan planning organization, though Willis said the previous council decided not to join the Mecklenburg Union Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MUMPO.

“In addition to being a very small fish in a very large pond, we would be working under NCDOT (N.C. Department of Transportation) regulations,” Willis told council.

Instead, Willis presented council the option of joining the Rock Hill, Fort Mill Area Transportation Study, also known as RFATS.

The group, created after several Fort Mill areas were tagged as urbanized during the 2000 Census, handles metropolitan planning for the Rock Hill and Fort Mill area.

During a presentation Monday night, RFATS representative David Hooper discussed the emergence of several new urbanized areas in South Carolina as a result of the 2010 Census.

Hooper identified at least three “urban cluster” areas in the Indian Land area, including one in the Sun City Carolina Lakes development, with a total of about 14,000 people. An urban cluster is designated as an area with a population between 2,500 and 49,999 residents.

Hooper said joining a planning organization  allows the county to join with a policy-making body of local representatives to evaluate transportation needs.

“It ensures that federal spending on transportation occurs through a comprehensive, cooperative and continuing process,” Hooper said.

After the presentation, Council Chairman Larry McCullough echoed Willis’ recommendation and urged his fellow council members to consider joining RFATS.

“If we did decide to go under MUMPO, we would be a much smaller part of a much larger area,” McCullough said.

Later in the meeting, council discussed adopting Resolution No. 797, for the county to request joining RFATS. The resolution also states the county must coordinate between the North and South Carolina governments, as well as the Federal Highway Administration, to make sure Lancaster County’s urbanized areas would be served by RFATS.

“We still need to go through coordinating with the North Carolina and South Carolina governors’ offices and council will eventually need to name someone to the policy committee,” Willis said.

Council voted 6-0 to approve the resolution. Councilman Larry Honeycutt left prior to the vote, as he is still recovering from back surgery earlier this month.

McCullough appointed new Councilman Brian Carnes as the council representative on the RFATS policy committee.

Not another Independence Boulevard 

Before the discussion and subsequent vote, council also heard comments from an Indian Land resident about Panhandle growth.

After seeing the RFATS item on council’s agenda, Jan Tacy told council it was crucial they look at the needs of the rapidly growing Indian Land area.

“An urban area has different needs than a rural area and that’s why B-3 (commercial rezoning) is a need in Indian Land,” Tacy said.

Tacy referenced the need for redefining B-3 definitions in the Panhandle and also asked council to revisit the U.S. 521/S.C. 9 Corridor Study.

Conducted in 2010 by URG, an urban and development planning firm, the study made recommendations on issues ranging from public transportation to traffic signals in the U.S. 521 (Charlotte Highway) corridor to the state line, and westward along S.C. 9 to the Catawba River.

“This study predicted that without a strategy in place, decisions would be made haphazardly. Also, I quote, to prevent becoming another Independence Boulevard, you need to plan for the growth,” Tacy said.

Tacy was referring to Charlotte’s infamous Independence Boulevard, a stretch of road known for its abundance of strip malls.

“All of this is becoming true,” she said. “Indian Land growth is haphazard and well on its way to becoming Independence Boulevard. We don’t need any more gas stations, liquor stores or supermarkets.”


 Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416