Will it be ‘chaos?’ Traffic concerns at center of Fort Mill school site discussion

FORT MILL — A serious discussion about traffic preceded a recent first-reading vote by Fort Mill Town Council to annex in nearly 52 acres of property on Whites Road that’s a proposed middle school site.

Before Council voted unanimously to accept the property into town limits, members, particularly Lisa Cook and James Shirey and Mayor Guynn Savage, voiced their alarm at the impact on traffic and residents who live along the Dobys Bridge/Fort Mill Parkway corridor. Shirey and Cook both raised questions about the property’s residential zoning that allows more dense home construction than other designations.

Even though it’s not planned for residential use and that zoning would be consistent with other school sites inside town limits, both asked town Planning Director Chris Pettit about having the Whites Road parcel, across the road from Catawba Ridge High School, the district’s third, now under construction, re-zoned to a government use designation.

Fort Mill Town Council meeting held Feb. 11, 2019

“We’re against more dense housing and we’re now giving the school district property (approval) that has that dense (zoning),” Cook said, rhetorically. Cook then ticked off the number of schools that would make — six — in a two-mile area.

“And heaven forbid you go another mile and then you have Fort Mill Middle and Fort Mill Elementary.”

Savage empathized with the Fort Mill School District, which has had to expand for going on two decades and counting to keep up with rapid residential growth and a continuing influx of new families while the pool of suitable land for new schools continues to shrink. But she also considered the traffic congestion and impact on nearby residents.

“Whites Road is certainly not in any condition to handle one more car much less an exit for a school.”
“The school district is not without gargantuan efforts to plan each of their facilities, however some discussion we’ve had among ourselves prior to this item would be the traffic pattern,” Savage said.

“Whites Road is certainly not in any condition to handle one more car much less an exit for a school. How do we manage that?”

Pettit said traffic studies and state regulators will determine what’s needed.

“Any improvements that would be necessary to mitigate the impact on Whites Road the intersection of Fort Mill Parkway and surrounding intersections, turn lanes, additional traffic signals, etc., any of those improvements to maintain normal service would be the responsibility of the applicant — the school district,” Pettit said.

Shirey asked when the school is scheduled to open and when Pettit said 2021, Shirey seemed skeptical there’s enough time for any road work to be completed. He didn’t seem to welcome the idea that Fort Mill Parkway, which opened less than three years ago, might have to be reconfigured so soon.

“So they finally got that road halfway decent and now we have to turn around and have these guys go in and tear the road into pieces again?” Shirey said, with incredulity in his voice.

“I would like to hear some options they’re mulling over,” Savage said.

She later quipped that she joked to Cook that the name of the southern bypass should be changed to “Education Highway” because of all the schools that dot the corridor.

Adding a little levity to the discussion, Cook elicited some laughs when she gave a shout out to Fort Mill School Board member Michele Branning and a suggestion to help ease congestion in the Dobys Bridge area.

“I’ll probably get a call from every school board member when I leave, but anyone who is selling property on the other side I-77, please let the school district know so they can build some schools over there,” she said.

“Michele Branning, give me a call. I’m right here, you have my number.”

Savage also made a shout out. Hers was to York County Council about an interchange project nearby that’s supposed to be completed ahead of Catawba Ridge opening next year.

“That has to happen before Catawba Ridge opens,” Savage said.

“Or it will be chaos on that bypass. I want to see some dirt move.”