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Exclusive: Panthers’ plan could give Rock Hill the state’s tallest building.

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Look up. It isn’t just the Rock Hill skyline set to change. What’s coming along with the Carolina Panthers could be something unseen across South Carolina.

Among the details that emerged earlier this week -- when the city planning commission heard from Panthers officials on plans to move headquarters to Rock Hill -- were building heights. Heights unsurpassed locally, and for many miles south of Charlotte.

“Most buildings are proposed to be about 360 feet tall or less,” said Leah Youngblood, city planning and zoning manager, “but with one signature building up to 485 feet tall.”

A 360-foot max would mean a roughly 26-story building. A building at 485 feet would be about 35 stories.

A Google search for the tallest building in South Carolina brings up a tower in Goose Creek built in 2012. It’s 427 feet and 13 stories. Then comes a Columbia office building at 349 feet and 26 stories.

The tallest building allowed on the Panthers site in Rock Hill would tower over them both. The secondary buildings on the Rock Hill site could stretch taller than the Columbia building, which was tallest in the state for 27 years.

“This is a unique project, but those would be some very unique buildings for Rock Hill,” said Randy Graham, chairman of the planning commission.

Graham has some concerns how so large of buildings would fit into the area, especially where homes may be.

“We need to really be conscientious of sight lines,” he said. “We’re not a Charlotte skyline at this point, and what we’re doing here is really going to stand out.”

The Panthers plan caps buildings at 90 feet, or about seven stories, still quite tall by York County standards, and within 150 feet of a property boundary. Youngblood said the location of the Panthers site along I-77 and away from other land uses makes tall buildings a fit.

“Staff is comfortable with those heights even though they are larger than what we would normally see in Rock Hill,” she said.

The tallest building in York County today is the still unfinished Heritage Tower near Fort Mill. MorningStar Fellowship Church and York County have been in legal battles for years over whether the 21-story tower should be completed or torn down. The church has a federal religious discrimination case against the county now over what the church states is an unwillingness to allow the owner to complete the tower once planned as a hotel, now for senior housing.

The Panthers tower and other buildings that could join it make quite the forecaster of Andy Merriman, assistant county manager. This past spring during a public safety committee meeting that had little to do with population predictions, Merriman pushed back on the notion that Fort Mill is or soon will be all out of room for residential growth.

“It is coming this way,” Merriman said in a Rock Hill meeting room, “but I don’t think we’ve really scratched the surface on what we can pack into Fort Mill, Tega Cay and the unincorporated area,” he said. “The multi-family and vertical options, for commercial and multi-family, are what we’re going to see.”

Merriman wasn’t basing his thoughts on the county wanting skyscrapers. County code doesn’t allow them, and he wasn’t proposing a change. His rationale involved something else often associated with the Panthers site, the possibility of light rail someday extending from Charlotte.

“Whether that’s a pipe dream or not, the (population) density required to effectuate light rail is unlike anything the current zoning allows in Fort Mill,” Merriman said. “If that’s really the way we’re going to go, we can talk density numbers of hundreds of units per acre and going vertical.”

The Panthers plan includes a variety of land uses. Many of them could go into that tall tower, or only slightly smaller ones. Ideas range from possible gambling venues if state law someday allows them, to the more than 1,000 apartments allowed if city council approves the current team master plan.

Charlotte has about a half dozen buildings at 500 feet or taller. Even with the Panthers plan experts don’t anticipate Rock Hill will rival that skyline. Youngblood said if the one tallest building in the Panthers plan goes as high as it’s allowed, there won’t be much else like it.

“We also think that if they go that high with one building, it’s probably only going to be one because of the parking demand of being able to serve the site,” she said.

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John Marks covers community growth, municipalities and general news mainly in the Fort Mill and York County areas. He began writing for the Herald and sister papers in 2005 and won dozens of South Carolina Press Association and other awards since.
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