A once quiet lakefront town in South Carolina is facing such bad infrastructure problems that the county council put a 16-month moratorium on growth projects.
The residents of Lake Wylie, South Carolina, know what growing pains feel like. The town’s population has tripled since 2000, largely because of the area’s good schools, low taxes, and close proximity to Charlotte, North Carolina, where there’s a strong financial and tech job market.
But word about the good living in Lake Wylie seems to have gotten out too quickly, because the town’s infrastructure is now cracking under the pressure.
So much so, that the York County Council recently put a 16-month moratorium on commercial and residential rezoning requests, as well as consideration of any new apartment complexes or subdivisions in the town of 12,000 people, the Wall Street Journal recently reported.
“We’re kind of running out of room and we don’t have the infrastructure really to carry it,” Kelly Trites, a real estate agent for Lake Wylie Realty, told Inman. “What we need is more commercial [development] and less residential [development] in the area.”
Classes in schools have been steadily pushing classroom capacity over the years, while a 20-mile commute to Charlotte has grown to an hour-long drive on the interstate. A drive of three miles across town can take 40 minutes.
One of the more frustrating side effects of the town’s growth is the intense stress it’s placed on the water system. Over the past two years, Lake Wylie residents have been under boil-water advisories 12 times. For five months in 2019, residents were also blocked from watering lawns, washing cars and filling pools.
Blue Granite Water Co., which operates the town’s water system, stated to the Wall Street Journal that there was a 40 percent increase in water demand from 2014 to 2019 and the company is seeking a rate increase — raising the already high $115 per month rate to $177 per month (the state median is $57) — in order to cover increased costs from municipal suppliers and help pay for investments in new infrastructure.
Although it’s still early into the ban, Trites told Inman that it hasn’t made much of an impact yet because so many projects were already in progress: “There’s so much in process right now that you wouldn’t even know there’s a ban. We’ve just been overrun.”
“We still have about six housing projects going up right now,” she added.
In years past, Lake Wylie was seen as a quiet summer oasis, a small town with a summer camp and cabins close to good fishing. A steep cut to South Carolina’s residential property tax in the mid-2000s caused a significant migration to the state, however, and tax breaks issued to the state by former Governor Nikki Haley also drew businesses from Charlotte and neighboring areas around the same time. The resulting influx of people and businesses put perhaps too much pressure on the town.
In general, individuals who live and work in Lake Wylie seem pleased with the county council’s decision, and a little irked by the phrase “ban on growth” that’s been employed by the media.
“I believe it’s long overdue,” Brian Wade, broker and Realtor at Lake Wylie Property, told Inman in an email.
“And I believe ‘ban on growth’ is not the phrase we should be using. ‘Pause on growth’ is more accurate … Most area residents, myself included, support conscious, concerted growth. This temporary moratorium allows community leaders the opportunity to reassess Lake Wylie development and its direct effect on local infrastructure, services and school. The unincorporated Lake Wylie, South Carolina area is a census designated place (CDP). If Lake Wylie were a town or city, it would rank as third largest in the county, yet we have lacked the general oversight and control of a municipality.”
Drew Choate, Realtor and president of the Lake Wylie Man Team/Choate Team at Keller Williams Realty, also didn’t agree with the term “ban.”
“To me, ‘ban’ has a very negative connotation,” Choate said. “It seems to me a little stronger of a word than what I perceive as going on … it’s only 16 months, and it’s only on certain types of projects … it’s not like we’re not going to see any building for a while.”
“Out of most [residents] I’ve spoken to, they’re in favor of it,” Choate added. “Everyone wants to know that the county is taking the time it needs to make sure they’re properly planning out for the future because we’ve seen so much growth, not only in Lake Wylie, but bordering towns.”
“[The] majority of residents welcome the pause on growth,” Wade said. “Many have been asking for this for years.”