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When is a road not just a road?
For a group of almost 200 Sun City Carolina Lakes residents, it’s when that road could mean the difference between life and death.
That was the message several members of the Indian Land neighborhood had on their minds as they crammed into Lancaster County Council’s chambers Aug. 28.
Some residents packed the lobby area outside chambers when fire officials closed the doors, citing maximum occupancy. Still others were forced to wait one floor below, listening to the action on several speakers placed throughout the building.
No matter where they sat, each resident was on hand to support creating a new road into Sun City, though some were fighting for an emergency-access road and others were hoping for a public thoroughfare.
The debate over creating the road began with a growing concern that emergency vehicles may not have complete access to all homes in the swelling community.
At the beginning of 2012, the development had an estimated 3,300 residents and 2,200 homes.
Adding fuel to the fire are concerns about what will happen with the addition of the Turkey Point portion of the neighborhood, nestled in the back of the Sun City development.
One by one, Sun City residents stepped to the microphone and asked council members to speak with the development’s builder, Pulte Homes, about fulfilling a requirement to create an emergency-access road between the neighborhood and River Road, which runs near Indian Land High School off Charlotte Highway (U.S. 521).
Sun City resident Don Cook urged council to look at the size of the community and the problems that could arise if the access road is not created.
“Sun City Carolina Lakes will be a community of 8,000 people and we want another road in there because of safety,” Cook said.
He compared Sun City to the city of Lancaster, which he said has the benefit of multiple access roads.
“You don’t have one or two entrances into Lancaster city. If there is an emergency in Lancaster city, people can disperse, but we can’t do that. We’re herded into an area,” Cook said.
Resident Waylon Wilson went one step further, asking council for support in getting Pulte to change the planned emergency road into a “controlled access and egress point.”
“It is needed, not only for emergency fire, life and safety vehicles, but also to improve traffic flow within the community as a second travel route to Highway 521,” Wilson said.
Wilson presented several other problems he’s seen as well, including difficulty in speaking with Pulte about creating the road and dismay about lack of representation in the neighborhood.
“We have no influence with Pulte. Our homeowners association is a misnomer as it’s controlled by the developer,” Wilson said. “Our homeowners association is comprised of only Pulte employees who manage the day-to-day activities.”
County Administrator Steve Willis said there is much confusion surrounding the issue. Willis said some Sun City residents believe the emergency road won’t be built, while others are asking for a public-access road to be built in its place.
As far as the emergency- access road goes, Willis said county ordinance 691, approved in 2006, requires that Pulte build access to River Road.
“There is no question on Pulte’s part. That emergency road is going in,” Willis said Tuesday afternoon. “The fire department will need to be able to get a firetruck in even before the first person moves in (to Turkey Point).”
Plans for the emergency road include a gate with a “Click to Access” system that only activates and opens when it picks up a radio frequency from an emergency-response vehicle, he said. Work on the road, and the Turkey Point area, may begin in early 2013.
What is debatable is a request to turn that planned emergency road into a public road, Willis said, which is the issue Wilson spoke on during the meeting.
A major roadblock to that request is that River Road is a state secondary road, not county-owned, meaning the proposal must be approved by the S.C. Department of Transportation, Willis said.
“Even if all the people in Sun City want it to be a regular access point, if all of Pulte agrees and all of County Council wants it, it won’t mean anything because it’s up to DOT,” Willis said.
In a memo to council, Willis relayed information he received from Vic Edwards, District 4 Assistant District Traffic Engineer, who said SCDOT will not approve the public road plan because of the poor condition of River Road and problems that could arise with traffic near Indian Land High School.
Edwards told Willis that SCDOT would reconsider if a traffic study is completed, and if an outside source, such as Pulte or the homeowners association, would fund any road improvements.
After hearing information from residents and county staff, Councilwoman Charlene McGriff asked for time to review the request before making a decision.
“I’m not sure if we’re in a position to change anything,” McGriff said. “We need to see if we can even make a recommendation to Pulte.”
For District 1 Councilman Larry McCullough, safety is still a priority.
“A lot of folks have a significant concern,” McCullough said. “We’ll have more than 7,000 people (in Sun City) when it’s all over.”
Council Chairwoman Kathy Sistare said council would weigh the various options before making a formal decision.
Wilson thanked council before the end of the meeting.
“That’s all we’ve asked for is to sit down with reasonable people and come to a reasonable conclusion,” he said.
Sistare then placed the issue on council’s agenda for the Sept. 24 meeting.