County Council OKs heelsplitter district

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By Jenny Hartley

Lancaster County Council gave second approval to regulations dealing with the Carolina heelsplitter, an endangered mussel, Monday.

The measures passed without discussion. One more reading must pass for the regulations to take effect.

The heelsplitter, protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, was discovered living in Six Mile Creek in Indian Land in March 2006, during engineering for a Wal-Mart Supercenter at the state line.

Since then, development in the Six Mile Creek basin has come to a stop, impeding projects like Lauth Property Group’s office complex near BridgeMill, as county officials worked with U.S. Fish and Wildlife on the heelsplitter issue.

Council approved adding a Carolina heelsplitter overlay zoning district to the county’s Unified Development Ordinance last week. It also voted on first reading to rezone about 3,000 parcels of land in the Six Mile Creek basin under the overlay.

The ordinance has a “sunset” of December 2009, so it can be amended if needed before then. A commission has been appointed to study the heelsplitter regulations and will report back to County Council later this year.

Officials say the new zoning will not affect farmers, or those whose development on property in the creek basin is under 8,000 square feet.

The ordinance requires developers of property over 8,000 square feet to keep 100- to 200-foot buffers around streams. If a developer needs to breach the buffers, for infrastructure, for example, the developer may pay into a conservation bank. The bank will be used to buy property in the Flat Creek area of the county, to protect a healthy, viable heelsplitter population there.

Marvin Road resident Harvey Hood told council members during public comment period at the March 31 meeting that the heelsplitter isn’t a new discovery. He’s 74 and said he remembers the mussels in Six Mile Creek when he played there as a child.

“Why does it have to take over an entire area?” he asked.

“It’s called the federal government,” Council Chairman Rudy Carter responded.

The heelsplitter issue has tied up council meetings for the past year, with council spending hours debating it.

There was little discussion about it March 31, and both measures passed in a 5-2 vote. Councilmen Jack Estridge and Fred Thomas voted against it.

Estridge said he didn’t like telling people what they could and couldn’t do with their land.

“My vote is symbolic,” Thomas said at the March 31 meeting. “I don’t like the way it was done.”