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Council passes first reading of highway corridor overlay

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By Chris Sardelli

Imagine walking along a well-manicured sidewalk on U.S. 521 in the Panhandle, with uniform brick buildings set back from the road and surrounded by rows of trees.

Those are just some of the landscaping designs and visual characteristics members of the county’s planning department are hoping to see with the implementation of a proposed Highway Corridor Overlay District. 

About a year in the making, the overlay district was designed by the planning department and ColeJenest & Stone, a Charlotte-based consulting firm, to enhance the corridors that serve as gateways into Lancaster County. 

The detailed document, presented as an ordinance for first reading at Lancaster County Council’s April 14 meeting, includes a long list of unified land development regulations for everything from sidewalks to signage and parking to landscaping. 

If approved after three readings, the overlay district would apply to properties along U.S. 521 from S.C. 75 north to the state line, and S.C. 160 from U.S. 521 west to the Lancaster/York county line. 

Standing in front of council, and armed with packets of detailed renderings, land maps, landscaping options and zoning requirements, were County Planning Director Penelope G. Karagounis and Brian Jenest, a landscape architect and land planner with ColeJenest & Stone. 

Karagounis told council she believes the overlay will help provide consistency in zoning and appearance to the Panhandle before the area grows any further. She said the county’s planning commission voted 5-0 on March 18 to approve the overlay district, and asked council to follow suit. 

As a way to demonstrate why the county needs to implement the overlay, Karagounis showed council a series of photos displaying various “eyesores” and other planning problems she and her staff have observed in the Panhandle.

“Here’s a car lot with no buffer. We’d have fencing so as not to see the outdoor storage,” she said, as photos cycled through on a pair of flat-screen monitors at the front of council chambers. “Here, you can see there are too many driveway cuts on 521. We’d limit them. And this one, on S.C. 160, right on top of the road are used cars; they are so close to the road.”

Flipping through the multi-page document, Councilman Steve Harper expressed concern that council was “writing rules as we go.” 

He also worried about a section in the ordinance regarding parking, setbacks, off-street loading and driveway standards, and how that could impact industrial-zoned areas. 

Harper asked why some of the wording was not more specific, though Karagounis said the ordinance was developed to allow some flexibility depending on the situation. 

“This way, we would not make a small business do something like a full lighting plan,” Karagounis said.

With a stack of photos showing proposed site designs, building placement and recommended construction materials, Jenest tried to show council members how the new regulations could change the whole feel of the Panhandle. 

“It’s hard to imagine pedestrians and bicycles along (U.S.) 521 because it’s so ugly,” Jenest said. “Traffic is not gonna go away, but it might behave a little differently with this.”

Though some council members worried it may be too late to get a handle on regulating the appearance of Indian Land, Karagounis said there is still land left to develop.

“A lot of development has occurred and is grandfathered in, but there’s a lot of vacant land we can work with,” she said. 

Jenest said the corridor overlay will help transform the Panhandle over time.

“As you continue to develop and urbanize, I hope it will be a much more friendly place to people and not just cars,” he said. 

Becoming a municipality?

Councilman Jack Estridge told Karagounis he still had some reservations with the overlay.

“I’m gonna vote against it because I don’t want it to be a consent item. Also, I want probably a little more time to digest this,” he said. 

In response, Karagounis said the process has gone through plenty of review, from council and the public. 

“This process, we’ve been so transparent. This corridor is only going to be for certain portions of the county, even though in my planning expertise, with the amount of growth we’ll have, we need to extend the corridor,” she said. “It’s very imperative (to approve this), since we’ve been working on this for a year and we’ve had ample time for the public to comment.”

Estridge was not swayed and instead commented on Indian Land’s future.

“The faster the Indian Land community can get organized and have their own municipality and have ordinances and rules for themselves, it will be a win-win for everybody,” he said. 

“Until that happens, we’ll spend two hours at every council meeting taking care of the traffic up there.”

Councilman Bob Bundy said after reading the text of the ordinance, he worried the intent had “gone way beyond” its original idea. 

“I know you’re looking at down the road, but the wording is troubling,” he said, and asked that the wording be refined to apply strictly to Indian Land. 

Noticing some opposition to the ordinance, both Jenest and Karagounis pleaded with council. 

“You badly need an overlay on (U.S.) 521. That area is a mess. You guys are in a great place to demand more than what you’re getting,” Jenest said. 

Any delays could harm the process, Karagounis added. 

“We have so many new developments going through the development review committee and we’re showing them this document,” she said. “Taking this back to the planning commission will delay this significantly, by at least another month.”

On the flip side, council members Larry Honeycutt and Charlene McGriff supported the document. 

“We see what kind of problems we’ve created in Indian Land. We have an opportunity coming south on 521 to do it right. Hopefully, we come up with something that can eliminate metal structures that are an eyesore. We’ve got a great opportunity to do some good,” Honeycutt said. 

McGriff called the overlay “an opportunity for us to get something started.”

“Let’s make this happen and move forward. Let’s be proactive. This is something Indian Land needed five years ago,” she said.  

After a debate about whether they should make changes to some of the ordinance’s wording, County Attorney Mike Ey stepped in.

“If there are grammatical changes, you can make those changes now, but if it’s anything larger, you’ve got to send it back to the planning commission,” Ey said.

Karagounis again pleaded with council to move forward with the current ordinance, and make any wording changes later with potential text amendments. 

Council voted 5-2 to approve first reading, with Estridge and Bundy dissenting. 

Second reading will be held at council’s meeting Monday, April 28.

 

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416