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The_sandlapper

The effects of growth on Lexington County

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I know many people don't know it but Lexington County (Columbia Metro) is one of the fastest growing counties in the state.

These few articles reflect the growing pains that county is experiencing at the present.

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Growth transforming face of county

By JOHN O'CONNOR and TIM FLACH

Staff Writers

In the area of S.C. 6 and U.S. 378, Lexington County's past, present and future merge.

The junction of those suburban thoroughfares are close to new subdivisions and shopping centers in the rapidly growing town of Lexington, counterparts of which are sprouting elsewhere across much of the county.

Close to the intersection are the crowded halls of Lexington Middle School where kids shuffle between portable classrooms while receiving an education rated among the best in the state.

A few blocks away sits the Lexington County Museum with its emphasis on local history and traditions. A new 98,000-square-foot judicial center is a little farther away. Across the street from it is the Art Deco courthouse built in 1940 to serve farms and scattered small towns until 30 years ago.

Those landmarks today are surrounded by traffic congestion that state transportation officials are struggling to relieve.

Though not growing at its fastest - more than 50,000 people moved in during the 1970s compared to 48,000 in the 1990s - Lexington County remains among the three fastest-growing counties in South Carolina.

That growth can be measured by the increase in your neighbors.

There's an average of 69 more people a square mile in the county after the last census in 2000. Put another way, the county gained an average of 13.25 new residents daily in the 10 years preceding that population count.

"The difference is people see the growth now," county planning director Charlie Compton said.

Dan Walker moved to the town of Lexington for which he now works as parks director 17 years ago in a deal with wife, Katrina. "I wanted to live in the country and she wanted to live in the city, so this was the compromise," he said. "We were far enough out in the country that I felt comfortable while she felt she had an urban setting."

When the Walkers moved to the town, its population was 1,000. Today it's estimated at 15,000 and increasing. "Now the city has moved to us," he said.

When the Walkers arrived, Lexington was a fifth of the size of Batesburg-Leesville, once the commercial center of what was an agricultural area. Today, Lexington's estimated population is triple that of its neighboring community 17 miles west.

Cheap land, good schools and the lure of Lake Murray makes Lexington County, particularly its center, a destination for families, retirees, vacationers, businesses and more.

Shops in many of the county's 14 municipalities no longer close for half-days on Wednesdays, abandoning a rural tradition. Increasingly, they're open for long hours every day.

As a child 40 years ago, Batesburg-Leesville Town Councilwoman Rita Crapps rode the train to see holiday lights at Christmas at department stores in downtown Columbia. "It was a big adventure, an all-day journey," she said.

Today, the train no longer runs, the trip takes 45 minutes on increasingly busy roads and the stores she visited are gone.

The challenges that growth brings is agitating some residents whose roots go back to colonial days of 250 years and older.

Educators in the five school districts are struggling to construct buildings to keep pace as new students arrive. District 1 across the center of the county is adding 500 students a year. Lexington-Richland 5 on the north side expects to average 250 more students a year during the next decade.

Recreation officials have similar problems with increasing demand for fields for soccer and courts of tennis, sports whose popularity exploded during the past decade. And libraries are looking to enlarge less than 10 years after major expansion.

Chapin issued hand-written bills for 80 homes when Stan Shealy became its mayor 23 years ago. Today, it sends computer-generated bills to 2,300 homes and businesses in a wide swath around it. "I don't think anyone could have predicted all this development," Shealy said.

Those improvements come at a price that upsets some longtime residents. Outrage is often heard over accelerating property tax increases for construction of amenities and at the meal tax Lexington Town Hall adopted for new parks and cultural facilities.

Some members of We The People, a group favoring reduction or repeal of property taxes, recently expressed exasperation with newcomers and want to curtail growth.

Meanwhile, some residents around the lake are resisting efforts to install sewers to replace septic tanks that could leak and pollute the lake. The step is too expensive and would bring in too many new neighbors, they say.

Lexington Town Hall is championing a bypass to relieve traffice jams caused by the intersection of three major roads in its center. Homeowners along proposed routes are fighting a road already delayed five times during the past 20 years by local hostility.

"If they could do something about that traffic, I wouldn't fuss so much," said Gilbert civic leader Raymond Boozer, who has lived in the county 53 years. "That's something they need to do something about."

Meanwhile, town leaders are requiring new shopping developments to include turn lanes and traffic lights to help keep traffic moving.

The other unresolved road problem is the slow pace of paving 700 miles of dirt roads.

But some older communities like West Columbia, Cayce and Springdale are experiencing a minor renaissance. Greg Pinner, executive director of the West Metro Chamber of Commerce, said childhood friends are returning to live in the area.

And leaders in those long-established communities are shaking off sedentary ways in efforts to attract new residents with amenities like a new path along the Congaree River and extending 12th Street to I-77.

Despite perceptions, planning director Compton said, the county is not close to being built out. County officials say their zoning plan can handle the next 50 years of development.

Plans are in the works for West Columbia to expand its water plant and Cayce its wastewater treatment plant. Both provide services to a wide band of areas south of the lake.

Meanwhile, officials in Batesburg-Leesville and Gilbert preparing for the boom Lexington has experienced to spread west their way next. And leaders of tiny Gaston and Swansea are trying to lure some of the growth their way.

County leaders hope to slowly transform the area from a bedroom community whose residents commute to university and state government jobs in downtown Columbia. Their plans call for new industry to provide jobs locally and share the burden of property taxes.

Business-friendly steps - such as the absence of a business license - and the recent purchase of Pelion's airport are two examples of county policy to lure new industry.

Bringing jobs to Pelion through development around the tiny airstrip "would be a boon" to the rural southwestern corner of the county, town Mayor Charles Haggard said.

Efforts to speed up ambulance service, particularly to outlying areas, are inching along as the county opens new fire and EMS stations.

But despite the efforts to modernize much of the county, Lexington has always been a traditional place. And the charm that attracted colonial settlers likely will remain strong for years.

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Impact of growth evident in Irmo

Irmo was the first town in Lexington County to boom, some 30 years ago.

People moved there for the same reasons they move farther out now

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That was a very long post :)

Lexington is certainly experincing growing pains. 378 has practically nonstop growth all the way to lexington, as does us1. I noticed the tax issue coming up several times. Taxes in SC are a real problem- we are over taxed on everything. Lexington certainly has sprawl, and it is frustrating to know that people are increasing the problems by preventing roads from being built.

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