The Rock Hill Board of Aldermen on Feb. 16 approved a new zoning category that some residents fear could have a negative impact on lower-income residential areas. 

City officials, however, insist the change will be good for Rock Hill and will allow the city to impose specific restrictions on proposed developments.

Alderman Edward Johnson cast the lone vote against creating the new zoning subcategory.

“I think the bill is actually more toward allowing rezoning that will allow a person to be able to put a storage or other facility in a residential area,” said Johnson. “The bill is set up to allow people to come in, buy property and request it be rezoned. Residents would not be properly aware of all the changes that will take place.”

Johnson said it would be simple for someone to buy property in minority areas and then change the zoning. 

“I’ve seen this kind of thing happen repeatedly in Rock Hill,” he said.

Farrell Carfield, and others with the Alliance for Interracial Dignity, also had concerns. They worry the zoning change could expand opportunities to convert residential property to light industrial use. 

The alliance, which seeks to address issues of racial equity, has asked elected officials to retain affordable housing and protect Black property ownership.

Carfield said the change is neutral on its face, but that the Rock Hill Board of Aldermen is expanding the city’s planning tools without changing any of the notice requirements or other protections citizens usually have under the code.

The Alliance for Interracial Dignity  took notice when concerns about the proposed change were raised by residents, including Kita Quinn. Quinn said that while the legislation will not directly affect her property, residents should have more of a say regarding what can and can’t be done when a business wants to locate in Rock Hill. 

Quinn fears that a developer could obtain property and attempt to “blight or rezone or whatever it takes” to push out the people already living and working in that area. She also fears the legislation will affect mostly Black and lower-income neighborhoods in Rock Hill because their property values tend to be lower. 

The city’s current regulations have three subcategories: planned development-residential, planned development-mixed use and planned development-commercial. The new amendment will add a fourth category of planned development-industrial.

Rock Hill City Administrator Jennifer Yackley said the planned development district regulations allow the city to place specific restrictions on a proposed development, an authority not available to the city under the regular residential, commercial and industrial zoning districts. The new amendment will give the city the ability to impose development-specific restrictions on owners wanting to develop land with industrial type uses, she said.

Mayor Edward Mahan insisted the new planned development district will be good for Rock Hill.

“This legislation has nothing to do with a particular area or piece of property or rezoning of any property,” Mahan said. “People have been led to believe this has to do with certain property, but it doesn’t.

“Instead, it puts the city in a good position, when developers want do development, that we are in front of the curve instead of behind it, as we have been in the past,” he added. “We need to be in a good position when things happen so we can say to developers that, according to our rules, this and that has to happen.”

Mahan said the city’s process remains the same, with developers still having to go through the planning and zoning commission before coming to the board of aldermen before a decision is made.