NC/SC Boundary Not Quite Where We Thought
The secret to success for Lake Wylie Minimarket on Highway 274 has always been location: just inside the South Carolina state line. The Joint Boundary Commission says the gas station is actually in North Carolina. Photo: Julie Rose Long before GPS was invented, a team of surveyors was dispatched on horseback to map out the boundary between the colonies of North and South Carolina. This was several years before the Revolutionary War. Charlotte was nothing but a few houses in the wilderness. Every mile or so, the surveyors made a slash on a tree and took notes. Hickory tree here, Chestnut there. This was standard practice for the time, but not really helpful in 2012. "To our knowledge, none of those trees exist 250 years a later," says Alex Rankin. He owns the Concord-based engineering firm hired by North and South Carolina to retrace the steps of those original boundary-markers and clarify the location of the line once-and-for-all. State officials say they want to head off increasingly common boundary disputes, but the effort has also led to unwelcome news for some property owners. Karen and Steve Byrnes stand in the home they've recently learned is actually in North Carolina, rather than South Carolina. Photo: Julie Rose Karen Byrnes is kind of chuckling when she answers the door to find a reporter on her stoop. Not that her predicament is a laughing matter. "No, I'm laughing because I just sent out a series of emails about that just five minutes ago," says Byrnes. "That" being the letter she recently received from the North Carolina-South Carolina Joint Boundary Commission. It says the ranch-style home on five acres that she and her husband bought in 2006 is actually not in Fort Mill, South Carolina after all. "We would not have purchased the home if it had been zoned in Mecklenburg County or North Carolina," says Byrnes. They prefer South Carolina's lower taxes, but mainly they just wanted their son (he's 9 now) to go to Fort Mill schools. Byrnes can't wrap her head around the idea that what everyone thought was the line between the two states for centuries, has suddenly moved. Will her son have to start attending Charlotte schools now? Does she owe back taxes to North Carolina? Will she have to register her car and get a new driver license? Not even the South Carolina Attorney General's office has figured out those answers yet. Byrnes isn't waiting to find out: "We listed (the house for sale) just two weeks ago, because we do not want to take the chance of being out of York County. We're just not willing to risk that." But how can the states just up and change the boundary line after all these years? Alex Rankin and the maps. Photo: Julie Rose Alex Rankin says they're not. "What we're doing is simply discovering the state line," says Rankin. "It is where it is." The effort to rediscover the true state boundary has taken years and cost the states nearly a million dollars. Rankin pieces together half a dozen large maps showing the full 334 mile line from the Atlantic to the Appalachians. Not since the original surveyors marked the boundary with slashes on trees has anyone attempted to re-trace the line. And since those trees are long gone, Rankin's team turned to matching 200-year-old maps with historic property records. There was no telling what they'd find. "What surprises me is there was so little ambiguity," says Rankin. The trouble spot turns out to be a hundred mile stretch through the Charlotte region where 93 properties appear to have discrepancies. Some, like the Byrnes family, suddenly find themselves in a different state, but most are like Natalie Everett in Pineville. "I have a South Carolina neighbor and a North Carolina neighbor," says Everett, who's just been told that part of her house is actually in South Carolina. "When I want to go stay out of state, I just go in the guest bedroom," she says, chuckling. Everett can laugh because the change won't affect her residency, zip code or school district. Not so funny is the situation facing the Lake Wylie Minimarket on Highway 274. There's basically one reason people line up at the station's four gas pumps. "Prices in North Carolina are way too high," says customer Tim Horne, as he fills his tank. "I save about $5 a tank - about 30 cents a gallon," adds Vince Quinn. "I try to gas up in South Carolina - or as close to the line as I can," says Gwen Brown. You can't get closer than this station, just a few feet inside South Carolina. Or that's what Victor Boulware thought when he bought the business in 1996. Now the Joint Boundary Commission says it's actually a North Carolina gas station, which means Boulware's gas taxes will go up and he'll have to stop selling fireworks. "It would cut that business totally in half," says Boulware. "If you turn that business into North Carolina, you'd have to shut it down." It's not really a matter of if. To keep Boulware's gas station in South Carolina would mean redrawing the state line - and that would require an act of Congress. The Joint Boundary Commission says it won't make that request, and instead hopes both states will pass laws to let the people stay in the same schools and avoid being billed for back taxes. What this all means for property owners in the long term is still completely up in the air. The Joint Boundary Commission - which is made up mostly of lawmakers from North and South Carolina - will meet on March 23rd to discuss options.