South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Land-use plan update critical, say residents
July 24th, 2006

By Jesse Tullos, jtullos@gtowntimes.com
The Georgetown Times

Butch Varnadore has heard news reports that say it’s foolish to invest money into new housing developments. He heard those reports about as much as he’s heard the hammering going on across the lake from his home on the Pawleys Island mainland.

And he’s not buying any of those projections that say the U.S. housing market is on a downward slide. At least, he isn’t seeing that happen on the Waccamaw Neck.

It’s not that Varnadore has any intention of investing in the new housing market, but he is caught in the middle of growing concern over how many homes can be built on a tract before the density becomes too much for the land to handle.

All he has to do is look out his front door and he can see no signs of erosion in builders’ market confidence. In fact, the housing market in Georgetown County doesn’t seem to be headed anywhere close to a tumble.

What Varnadore sees daily is the construction of Portrait Homes, duplex-style houses that will eventually house about 40 families and that concerns him.Varnadore lives on Elkader Road a dead-end lane off King’s River Road. He purchased his home on a half-acre lot with a lakefront view 10 years ago for $54,000. He said that today a similar-size lot down the street is selling for $160,000, undeveloped. But that doesn’t bother Varnadore as much as what he feels is an invasion of his and his neighbor’s property rights by what he calls, “out-of-town developers.” The source of his discontent is a development across the lake from his house and a lack of concern by the developers, regarding his and his neighbor’s complaints.

“The lake was there when I bought my home,” he said. “My neighbors and I own half of it and Portrait Homes owns the other half. They said they would do nothing to harm the quality of water in the lake but they’ve put in a drainage system and storm-water runoff is going into the lake. They’ve ignored every complaint we’ve made.”

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control checked out the quality of water in the lake between the two properties after Varnadore and his neighbors complained about the cloudiness of the water. They said it posed no health problems.

Varnadore’s grievances are similar to those heard from other long-time residents of the Neck whose once-quiet neighborhoods have been disrupted by construction and the rumbling of heavy equipment.

What is happening, and has been happening is that growth has more than tripled on the Waccamaw Neck since the 1980 Census was taken.

In 1980, less than 5,000 people lived on the Neck. The 2000 Census showed more than 16,000 and 10,309 of those resided in the Litchfield-Pawleys Island area.

It is a phenomenal growth no matter how you crunch the numbers. According to county officials, since 1996, more than 4,000 permits for single-family homes on the Waccamaw Neck were approved and permits for nearly 7,000 housing units have been received — the biggest chunk coming from the Arcadia East proposed development, which is still in the planning stages. Then, add nearly 3,000 multi-family units that either have permit or zoning approval.

That’s a lot of homes. And these permits are just for the Neck.

To put the numbers in perspective, consider that the entire City of Georgetown has only 2,500 housing units.

The question that is being raised more often these days is, when will the Comprehensive Land-use Plan for the Waccamaw Neck be updated to deal with this unprecedented growth?

Land-use update

County planners admit the process of updating the Neck’s zoning plan has been slow, citing staff shortages as a main culprit. They have heard the anxious voices coming from the Neck concerned with issues such as density, storm-water runoff, buffers and other considerations and say they expect to have a plan that will address these measures by next summer.

Not only do they say they will meet that deadline for the Neck but they also say they will have a county-wide zoning plan in place about the same time. And they will be holding public hearings to allow residents and developers to have their say.

As the county prepares to update its comprehensive land-use plan, new subdivisions with names like Pawleys Pointe, Litchfield Breeze, Rose Run, Olde Midway Landing, The Trace, Reunion Hall, Hidden Oaks, Pawleys Pavilion, Atalaya Cove, Kings Creek Paired Homes, Portrait Homes, Tucker Woods, Legacy Place and other housing developments are either under construction or being advertised for pre-sells.

These developments were already zoned as multi-family housing so they did not have to go through the rezoning process,” said County Planning Director Boyd Johnson. “De Gullah was the same situation, When a project comes in to our department and the property is already zoned for its purpose, what we do is look at setbacks and those kind of things. It does not have to go before the Planning Commission unless rezoning is requested.”

Johnson did say, however, that among the topics being discussed by county planners and Neck residents is having developers of larger tracts getting Planning Commission approval before construction is started.

The land-use plan, which was last updated about 10 years ago, has worked well for the most part in keeping the Neck from becoming another Grand Strand, but there are many who say it is long past time the comprehensive land-use plan for the Waccamaw Neck was updated.

Amy Armstrong, an attorney with the S.C. Environmental Law Project and a Pawleys Island mainland resident, wants to see planning and zoning that will meet the needs of the growing community. “We need to look at clustering our developments to include a variety of uses in a village/new urban style so that residents can get to the grocery store, drug store, deli, restaurant and other shops without having to drive, or at least not having to drive on Highway 17,” she said. “We need foot-and-bike access alternatives incorporated into new developments to decrease or at least help maintain status quo on the traffic and congestion along Highway 17.” Armstrong would like to see the updated plan include zoning that prohibits big-box stores, car lots and other large-scale commercial facilities that change the character of the community and shut down local businesses. Click on link below for remainder of article.

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