Fort Mill schools brace for growth

Special to the Fort Mill TimesMarch 10, 2014 

This is the first installment of an occasional series that examines the impact of new growth in Fort Mill and ways officials might manage that growth.

The Fort Mill School District is trying to prepare for a flood of new students thanks to proposed developments in and outside of the town’s limits.

Two weeks ago, the town discussed indicators showing that Fort Mill’s population could rise from 11,000 to 30,000 by 2030 – not counting new homes outside town limits that would be in the school district.

New developments will mean more pressure on the district to provide adequate facilities, said Patrick White, chairman of the Fort Mill School Board.

“We want to make sure people understand the significant cost taxpayers will pay for new students coming into our area,” he said.

To better understand the effect new developments will have, the school board developed a template that calculates the growth and costs associated by new residences, White said.

One such development is the 280-acre Crescent Communities property at 1999 Suttonview Road zoned for 650 homes, which was recently annexed into Fort Mill town limits. The development is in the planning stage now.

The development could bring 423 new students into the Fort Mill School District, White said. Using the template, White estimated an additional 201 elementary, 89 middle and 133 high school students could enter the school district.

The 650 homes would generate an estimated $2.2 million in tax revenue from personal property such as cars and boats and secondary homes in one year and an estimated $7.2 million in the first 10 years for the district in impact fees, White said, but the costs to build new schools needed to accommodate the new students will cost the district an estimated $18.3 million, he added.

“Development doesn’t pay for itself,” White said.

Fort Mill is the only district in the state allowed to collect a per-roof impact fee on new homes. The fee was outlawed, but Fort Mill was grandfathered in. The money can only be used on capital projects.

In addition to Crescent’s project, other upcoming development includes the 400-home Cameron Creek in the Tega Cay area and Riverchase, which can bring up to 250 new homes to property off Doby’s Bridge road.

While the school board has no control over growth in the area, district officials will continue a 10-year building plan that considers the increasing growth rate for the district, White said. With new schools Tega Cay Elementary and Doby’s Bridge Elementary opening this summer, the district will be under capacity for the near future, White said.

For now.

White said the district would like to see more commercial growth rather than residential.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good school district,” White said. “We need to protect the school district from the harm fast growth could cause it.”

Ironically, that quality is what helped fuel the growth as developers for more than two decades have worked to meet the demand for homes created by parents’ desire to relocate to Fort Mill for the schools. Parents from other states have flocked to Fort Mill for the eduction benefits and economic value; Local property taxes and home costs are a fraction compared to other regions, particularly the Northeast.

Fort Mill resident Randy Griesman said he is “frustrated” that after new schools were recently added to the district – as well as an expansion of both high schools and the relocation of Riverview Elementary to a new building now under construction – growth will continue to impact school resources.

“The amount of growth hasn’t been contained,” he said. “Residents feel helpless to stop it.”

White said he has brought his concerns to town and county officials as the district continues to monitor growth in the area.

York County Councilman Michael Johnson said the county would also like to see residential growth slow in the area.

“I hate to see more rooftops built when that land could have been better used for commercial or industrial use,” he said.

The Suttonview property had been zoned for commercial use when it was in York County’s jurisdiction, James Martin, vice president of Crescent Communities. However, the Fort Mill area plan showed the future use of Crescent’s land as a residential use with medium density, or three to five units per acre, Martin said. Crescent’s plan for the maximum of 650 units is 2.3 units per acre.

Johnson said the county continues to work with Fort Mill School District officials to manage growth.

“We try to take into account what they want or need,” he said.

Town’s concerns

Fort Mill Town Councilman Tom Adams said the town has heard and understands the school district’s concerns.

However, Adams said there’s nothing Fort Mill can do to stop residents from selling their land to developers.

“The town isn’t in a position to stop residential growth,” he said.

While some residents have expressed the desire for a moratorium on residential building, Adams said that would not affect growth outside of town limits, which still impacts the school district.

“I don’t feel like that would be a wise way to go,” he said. “It’s a no-win situation for the town if growth happens outside of town limits.”

In the case of the Suttonview Road property and similar residential projects, Adams said annexing allows the town to maintain control over the developments. Adams said if the town had left the Crescent property in the county, future residents would still use the town’s facilities, such as parks and recreation sports, and add to the school district.

By not annexing, Adams said Fort Mill “would be doing a huge disservice to people that live in town.”

Being inside town limits also means access to Fort Mill’s fire and police services, Martin said. Which is what residents got when they bought homes in Crescent’s upscale Springfield community.

“We knew we wanted that level of service in our community,” he said. “We want a positive relationship between the community, police and fire departments.”

With easy access into Charlotte, the great reputation of the public schools and amenities available to residents, Martin said growth will continue.

“It makes the Fort Mill area a very desirable place to live,” he said. “The town has done good job of encouraging the right type of development in town limits.”

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