Best Charlotte Suburbs for Families
What you need to to know about living north, south, east and west of Charlotte’s city center.
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Photo by Megan Cynowa
Stand-up paddleboarding classes are offered at The Goat Boater on Lake Wylie.
South Carolina's Southern Charm
Why families are putting down roots just across the state line
By Tiffany Wolff
South Carolina’s Southern charm has families hopping the border. Popular areas, including Fort Mill, Rock Hill and Tega Cay, lie just 30 minutes south of Charlotte, and still feel within a short reach of uptown Charlotte. Lower property taxes and a surge in development have many families moving down the Interstate 77 corridor.
Fort Mill is one of the fastest growing cities in the state of South Carolina. Highly rated schools are part of the draw. Schools within the Fort Mill School District have earned an impressive reputation. The 2018 senior classes received more than $31 million in scholarship opportunities. The district works diligently to keep up with rapid growth in population. The district opened its fifth middle school, Pleasant Knoll Middle School, in August 2017. The district’s third high school, Catawba Ridge High School, is slated to open in August 2019. This past spring, a successful $190 million bond referendum passed to include funding for two elementary schools and one middle school.
While schools are a priority to many families, Fort Mill’s quaint downtown holds shops, bustling restaurants and the local brewery Amor Artis. Near downtown is Millstone Park and playground. Another popular play spot is Walter Elisha Park, home to the renowned Strawberry Festival. Residents also enjoy the shops and restaurants in Baxter Village and Kingsley. In the new Kingsley development, family resources include Small Hands Big Art studio, Pigtails and Crew Cuts, and SafeSplash SwimLabs Swim School.
Some families are drawn further south to Rock Hill. This growing community of approximately 73,000 residents lies 20 miles south of Charlotte. The city is growing at a rate of 2 to 3 percent per year, says City Manager David Vehaun. The city has a number of charming attractions for families, including the Rock Hill Fire Department Headquarters and Museum, which includes a small, indoor play space. The city holds numerous events and festivals throughout the year, many of which feature art and culture. Popular festivals for families include the Come-See-Me Festival, Glencairn BloomFest, Boo-Ha-Ha and ChristmasVille. In the winter, skate at Founders Holiday Ice Rink, and in the summer, do not miss Food Truck Friday at the Fountain. Pick apples and try some apple cider donuts at Windy Hill Orchard this fall.
Tega Cay/Lake Wylie
Nestled between Charlotte and Rock Hill, Tega Cay is located on Lake Wylie near Fort Mill. The city’s waterfront location allows for scenic views and ample outdoor activities. Approximately 11,000 people reside in Tega Cay, and the city has experienced a 15 to 20 percent increase in population growth over the past three years, according to Tega Cay City Manager Charlie Funderburk. Funderburk credits population growth to the reputation of schools, proximity to Charlotte and relatively favorable residential property tax rates. Tega Cay residents attend schools within the Fort Mill School District. Lake Wylie students attend Clover School District schools.
Plans are in place to build Catawba Park, a much anticipated, 61-acre destination that features athletic fields, walking trails, Catawba River access, playgrounds and picnic areas. At Windjammer Park, families enjoy fishing, grills, picnic areas, a playground and two lake beaches. A large portion of Tega Cay’s notable Independence Day festivities occur at Windjammer Park, and the park hosts ski shows on Friday nights during the summer.
Families considering the move to Fort Mill, Rock Hill and Tega Cay should consider impact fees, school freezes and traffic. An impact fee is imposed by the government on a new or proposed development. Impact fees are collected on new construction only. In Fort Mill, impact fees are instituted at just over $18,000 per single family home.
Rock Hill implemented impact fees 20 years ago, Vehaun says. Revenues largely support water, sewer and fire expansion costs. Tega Cay began levying impact fees in August of last year, and Funderburk says fees go toward parks and recreation, police, fire and utilities.
Before buying in an area, parents should research if the currently zoned school has an enrollment freeze. Banks Trail Middle School, Doby’s Bridge Elementary School, Gold Hill Elementary School and Tega Cay Elementary School had enrollment freezes for the 2018-19 school year due to population growth and crowding. Population growth has also brought congestion to roadways.
Tiffany Wolff is the calendar editor for Charlotte Parent magazine. She lives in Fort Mill with her husband and two sons.
Where to Explore
Anne Springs Close Greenway, a 2,100 acre nature preserve in Fort Mill, offers a number of outdoor recreational activities, such as hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, camping, picnicking and kayaking. Events and festivals to check out include, but aren’t limited to, Fall Frolic on the Greenway, Earth Day Celebration and Greenway Race Series.
Find educational, indoor fun at the Museum of York County. The museum features a planetarium, Tot Town play area, a naturalist center and changing exhibits featuring natural history topics.
The RiverWalk community features single-family homes, restaurants and shops, and public spaces, including a landing for canoes and kayak, and the scenic 3.25-mile Piedmont Medical Center Trail. It also is home to the BMX Supercross Track, the only bicycle-motorcross, Olympic-caliber training facility on the East coast. The track hosts all levels of events and offers instruction for all ages and skill levels.
Winthrop University is located in Rock Hill. The public university has enrollment just under 6,000, which includes undergraduate and graduate programs. Families can enjoy athletic, cultural and recreational events held on campus, or simply walking enjoy a stroll around the campus lake.