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After two years of debate and a multitude of ordinances, prospective businesses received the green light this week to apply for commercial property rezonings in the Panhandle.
Lancaster County Council voted 3-2 at its meeting Monday, June 25, to remove a rezoning moratorium in Indian Land.
Councilmen Larry McCullough and Jack Estridge dissented, while Councilwomen Kathy Sistare and Charlene McGriff were not present.
In effect since Dec. 13, 2010, the moratorium prohibited the acceptance and consideration of any rezoning applications for Panhandle properties from the CSX rail line north to the state line and west to the Catawba River.
While it was intended to curb commercial rezonings until definitions for allowable B-3 businesses were redefined, the moratorium put a hold on all rezonings in that area.
Minutes before the vote, McCullough, who was absent for first reading and opposed second reading, again voiced his concerns about removing the moratorium.
“I am opposed to this. I have been opposed to this. We’ve needed to get the B-3 recommendations done,” McCullough said. “Indian Land is a little different and, yes, we need to make some changes.”
Estridge asked County Attorney Mike Ey about whether changes to B-3 definitions would impact the whole county.
Ey said any change made to the county’s Unified Development Ordinance would be implemented countywide, unless an overlay district was created for a specific area.
The overlay district idea was previously discussed during a series of B-3 committee meetings, though no formal plan was ever presented to, or approved, by council.
Following the discussion Monday, council voted to remove the moratorium.
Penelope Karagounis with the county’s planning department said the moratorium was originally set to expire June 30, though the recent amendment ended it five days early.
“At this point, I can start accepting applications starting in July,” Karagounis said. “I have already had some phone calls from people interested in rezoning properties.”
Rezoning applications for Panhandle properties are due by July 17 to be considered at the county’s Planning Commission meeting Aug. 21.
As for those elusive B-3 revisions, several of which have been proposed and debated during the last few months, Karagounis said there have been no official changes to the current list of B-3 definitions.
“At this time, the planning department has not had any direction from County Council about which way to go,” she said.
Beating down the doors?
Despite rumors that the moratorium prevented several companies from moving into the Indian Land area, Karagounis said there actually has been very little negative economic impact.
Since December 2010, she said there have been no new subdivision requests for that area and only a half-dozen inquiries from people interested in commercial rezonings.
“There are at least four developers on my e-mail list who have kept in contact the whole time, wanting to know when the moratorium would be over,” Karagounis said. “Now some have heard the news and called me this week about it.”
She said the idea that businesses were “beating down the door” to relocate in the Panhandle was not quite accurate, especially with the down economy.
Karagounis also pointed out that existing B-3 zoned properties were not affected by the moratorium, of which there are several in the northern part of the county.
“There are a lot of vacant B-3 properties in the Panhandle, from the state line down to Doby’s Bridge Road along (U.S.) 521,” she said. “Those properties are all available.”
In an interview Thursday afternoon, McCullough said there have been rumors circulating through the community about companies whose progress was halted by the moratorium.
He said on separate occasions he's heard that K&W Cafeterias, a restaurant chain found throughout Virginia and the Carolinas, as well as discount-chain Family Dollar were both looking to construct buildings and set up shop in the Panhandle. Both rumors were squashed by residents who called those companies themselves.
“A citizen called K&W, who said they didn’t even know where Indian Land was,” McCullough said. “And another citizen contacted Family Dollar, who said that company doesn’t build buildings.”
McCullough believed the rumors may have been started to put pressure on removing the moratorium.
“We’ve got some people who own residential and want more money for their land by getting it switched to B-3,” he said. “There’s substantial B-3 areas in Indian Land right now, yet we’ve got folks who own land that is not B-3 spreading these rumors and hoping to get something to happen.”
With the moratorium now removed, McCullough hopes to see some movement toward the original goal of revising B-3 definitions.
“A substantial amount of effort has gone into this and it’s just not getting across the finish line,” he said. “But I’m hopeful there will be some changes and we’ll see some things happen.”
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416