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Crossing lines for better coordination

City planners understand that issues such as traffic congestion, water quality or growth management don’t stop at a municipality, county or state border.

"Everyone in our jurisdictions has a stake in those issues. Those issues don’t respect political boundaries. It forces us and it gives us the opportunity to come together," said Joseph Cronin, planning director for the Town of Fort Mill.

As his Tega Cay counterpart Susan Britt says, "Planners work with the human condition and connect humans to the environment. We understand that we are not bound by the constraints of our city limits. We have to understand the regional context."

That context is easy to understand in a place such as York County, one of the fastest growing regions in the state and nation. Fort Mill officials find themselves working every day with other cities in the county, such as Rock Hill and Tega Cay, along with unincorporated York and Lancaster counties, the Catawba Indian Nation and area school districts. It’s a region that illustrates the need for multijurisdictional planning and understands the importance of the communication and cooperation necessary to accomplish it.

"It’s important that policy makers are coordinating, coming to an understanding and having a coordinated response," said Britt, the Tega Cay planning and development manager.

The importance of that cooperation has become more obvious as the area has grown. When Cronin started working in Fort Mill in 2009, a sluggish economy meant there wasn’t much construction going on in the region. "Fast forward five or six years and somebody blew the lid off. We had 500 new home permits last year," he said.

That residential growth clearly translates into the need to work together, particularly with the area’s school district. It’s important, Cronin said, for the town to make sure the school district knows where the growth is expected, as it plans new schools and draws attendance lines.

"Those new homes mean a heck of a lot of kids the school district has to educate," he said. "There are 5,000 new residences in the pipeline over the next 10 years. That could double the size of our town."

Working with school districts is just one example of multijurisdictional coordination in the region. Cronin and Britt also mentioned:

  • Joint training for boards and commissions. Tega Cay and Fort Mill provide joint quarterly courses for members of each municipality’s boards and commissions. The two towns consider issues that are important for the area and tailor the training to fit those needs. Recent topics included a session on regional planning, using utilities as an annexation tool and the impact of residential growth on local schools. The classes are submitted to the SC Planning Education Advisory Committee for approval for continuing education credit, and they are offered at little to no cost to the municipalities.
  • Joint council meetings. Last year, the Tega Cay City Council, Fort Mill Town Council and York County Council held the first-ever joint meeting to talk about topics that affect all three jurisdictions, including transportation planning, emergency management, and parks and recreation. "We have common concerns; it’s imperative that we work together. We’re not always going to agree, but there’s a benefit in working together," Cronin said.
  • Communication among staffs. Cities, school districts and county governments regularly share agendas and staff reports with each other. Fort Mill, for example, shares copies of any rezoning or annexation requests with the school district.

    Smaller annexation projects are shared with neighboring jurisdictions that may be affected by the development. They are asked for feedback as the project makes its way through the approval process. "Sometimes we disagree, but that’s OK. We’re all part of the process," Cronin said.
  • Long-term planning. As any jurisdiction begins work to update its comprehensive plan, it reaches out to all the other stakeholders in the area, including Rock Hill, Lancaster and York counties, Tega Cay, Fort Mill and the area school districts.

    "We share comprehensive plans and work with each other to develop land use goals that reflect each other," Britt said.
  • Informal talks. Planners from the counties, municipalities and the Catawba Regional Council of Governments meet informally, usually for lunch, each month to network and discuss issues and ideas.