CAMDEN — Camden County planning officials are seeking additional information before deciding whether to recommend approval of a large planned development in the South Mills area.
A public hearing on the project’s master plan was originally slated for last week’s regular meeting of the Camden Board of Commissioners. It was delayed, however, after both planning board members and county agencies raised concerns about the project.
The concerns included the ability of public safety agencies to serve the development and the project’s potential impact on stormwater drainage and the county school district.
South Mills Landing LLC is proposing a 581-unit planned development on more than 229 acres in South Mills that would located off Main Street and adjacent to Horseshoe Road and U.S. Highway 17.
County officials reviewed and approved a concept plan for a 581-unit project at South Mills Landing in 2019, and a master plan was submitted for a 580-unit planned development in January.
According to the development plan, South Mills Landing would include a “mix of residential uses in close proximity to one another” as well as commercial businesses that would serve residents of both the development and South Mills, which is nearby.
Water for the project would be supplied by the South Mills Water Association, and its water system would be modeled to ensure it has “adequate water flow and pressure” to both fight fires and meet daily demand, according to the developer’s plan.
Stormwater, according to the plan, “will be modeled for a 100-year storm event and property line berms constructed as necessary ... without adversely impacting neighboring properties.”
When fully complete, the development is projected to add 301 students to the Camden County Schools.
Both the Camden Sheriff’s Office and the South Mills Volunteer Fire Department said they disapprove of South Mills Landing’s master plan.
South Mills Fire Chief Tommy Banks said the plan doesn’t address the water supply needed for fighting fires in the high-density development.
“Structure fires in high-density developments are known to spread rapidly from structure to structure and are very challenging, even for full-time, career-level fire departments in established metropolitan areas,” Banks said in comments about the plan. “While we have a great department, excellent, well-trained volunteers, and have demonstrated the ability to obtain good insurance ratings, the lack of fire flow places our department’s members and the general public at risk.”
Banks also expressed concern about flooding along Horseshoe Road.
“We are concerned that this development will create a situation similar to that which we have experienced in other parts of our jurisdiction where the fire department spent several hours daily over the course of multiple days providing assistance to isolated residents,” Banks said. “As a volunteer department, it is very difficult to provide manpower coverage to provide this level of service.”
Banks also expressed concern about the county being able to provide emergency medical services to the large development.
“The South Mills Volunteer Fire Department is asking that this development not be approved until the concerns expressed above have been addressed,” Banks said.
Camden Sheriff Kevin Jones also expressed concerns about his department’s ability to provide services to the development with its current staffing.
“Without a guarantee from the Board of Commissioners to adequately fund this office with extra personnel and equipment to meet the increased demands that this project will produce I cannot approve this action at this time,” Jones said.
In an email to Planning and Community Development Director Dan Porter, Jones explained that he opposes any new subdivisions until the county’s infrastructure is able to handle the growth.
“We are at maximum capacity in terms of the call volume we now receive with our existing personnel and the current population we serve,” Jones said. “A 581-unit subdivision could be devastating to our efficiency in providing adequate law enforcement response to our future citizens and current citizens.”
In his review of the plan, Camden County Schools Superintendent Joe Ferrell expressed concern about the impact of bringing at least 300 more students into the district while crowded school conditions already exist.
“Will there be money paid to the county for support of schools like is the case with Camden Plantation?” Ferrell asked, referring to a previous subdivision whose developers gave Camden money to offset the cost of educating additional students.
“If this subdivision adds approximately 300 students (using the appropriate calculation formula) we are looking at 15-18 new classrooms across the school district and we simply do not have those spaces available,” Ferrell said.
The Camden County Schools Transportation office signed off on South Mills Landing’s plans but recommended 25 “Bus Stop School” signs and three additional shelters for bus stops. Britton Overton, director of transportation for the schools, said the development is expected to require four to six additional school buses.
David Credle, director of the South Camden County Water and Sewer District, said he has a couple of concerns.
“The elevation of this property causes flooding in heavy rain events,” he said. “With the use of gravity sewer this would mean the manholes, cleanouts and possible pump stations could also be overwhelmed with flood water.”
Credle also noted that the plans show sewage collection pipes in the middle of the road.
“Camden is not equipped to work in the road or handle the removal and replacement of roadways,” he said. “Some collection piping is shown between the back yards of homes. This isn’t acceptable because of fencing and storage buildings being installed that will block access for maintenance and repair work.”
Brian Lannon of the Albemarle Soil and Water Conservation District also noted that the area around the curve on Horseshoe Road at the proposed entrance to the subdivision currently floods.
A culvert that goes under U.S. 17 and drains stormwater from that area, needs to be large enough to handle runoff from the entire area given the high density of the units and infrastructure, Lannon said.
He also said water quality is a concern.
Lannon said a proposed drainage outlet under Main Street “looks like it will need more capacity than there is currently.”
South Mills Landing LLC has asked that the hearing on the master plan be rescheduled for Sept. 8.