Developer adjusts Carolina Forest plans, residents oppose

 Developer adjusts Carolina Forest plans, residents oppose

A Carolina Forest developer has significantly downgraded plans for new housing along Gardner Lacy Road after intense opposition from nearby residents.

But some residents still aren’t satisfied.

“And we said that didn’t really make a difference because when you put the homes there and have those non-permeable surfaces it’s still going to flood,” said Cherie Reid, who’s organized a 1,300-signature petition drive against the project and worries her nearby South Creek home could flood due to the building.

“In the future,” she added, “we’re going to get more flooding and more traffic.”

Since plans for the new homes were first publicized in March, Carolina Forest residents who live near Gardner Lacy have opposed the project, signing petitions and speaking against the development at public meetings. Several residents said they plan to speak against the development again when Horry County Council hears public input on the project in coming weeks.

Felix Pitts, an agent for the developer with G3 Engineering, said at an Horry County Planning Commission meeting last week that he and the developer downgraded the plans for the housing from 105 town homes to 58 single-family homes. The homes would be located along Gardner Lacy Road, near the Waterford Plantation neighborhood and the Myrtle Beach National golf course, which is home to the South Creek development.

As before, the homes would be split between two tracts of land along Gardner Lacy, one on the left-hand side and the other caddycorner across the street. The redesigned plans would have the front doors of the homes on the Myrtle Beach National side of Gardner Lacy facing the main road, while the homes on the Waterford Plantation side would face the neighborhood, not the main road. Each section of homes would abut Frontage Road off of Gardner Lacy, and Pitts said the developer would commit to installing privacy fences on the line between Waterford and the new homes.

Developers changed plans for the new homes after a March 10 town hall meeting at the Carolina Forest Recreation Center where about 150 people packed a room and said they worried the project would invite flooding, worse traffic and more noise to their neighborhood.

Residents of Waterford Plantation said at the town hall that traffic cutting through their neighborhood from Carolina Forest Boulevard to Gardner Lacy Road was already so bad that they’d support gating their community if Horry County officials allowed the new housing development to go through. Turning the neighborhood from public-access to private would be an uphill legal battle, but some residents still favor doing so, even with the downgraded plans, said Carole VanSickler, a Waterford resident and president of the Carolina Forest Civic Association.

“There are people who are in favor of gating it,” she said Monday. “Waterford people are asking, ‘Why can’t we gate Waterford?’”

Rick Dolce, who lives on the Myrtle Beach National side of the development, said he preferred the original plans for town homes because the smaller, single family homes could invite Coastal Carolina University students to the neighborhood, adding another headache in addition to the flooding concerns and congestion along Gardner Lacy Road.

“If the college kids are in there, they’re going to be partying and walking over here,” he said. “At least before you had the chance of a nice family moving in.”

Reid, who also lives on the Myrtle Beach National side, said she worries about traffic getting worse, and potentially leading to accidents. She and other residents say that when students at the nearby Carolina Forest High School arrive at and leave school, traffic gets bad and the youngsters often speed up and down Gardner Lacy Road on their way home.

“I’m just worried that there’s (only) going to be a couple of exits and I just worry about when school is starting in the morning and ending in the afternoon, the kids are speeding up and down there,” Reid said.

Other residents have resigned themselves to the fact that the developer will build what they want on the land near their neighborhoods and their protesting won’t do much good. Jim Robertson went to the town hall meeting last month to oppose the project, but said Tuesday that it doesn’t appear that the resident opposition did much good.

“I’m not really in favor of it but some things happen,” he said. “I don’t think anyone who’s developing is smart to even go in there. They may end up paying the piper. I wouldn’t build anything there.”

As the developers have pushed for the project, they’ve maintained that their building homes on the land is a much more beneficial use than other projects that could locate there. The land is currently zoned “commercial forest agriculture,” which allows for a number of low-density developments like farms, space-out homes and some types of businesses. Pitts, the agent for the developer, has argued repeatedly that homes would better suit the area as opposed to a gas station, storage facility or other business.

“There’s a lot more noxious, offensive uses that are allowed on the property than what we’re proposing,” Pitts told The Sun News last month. At last week’s Planning Commission meeting, he emphasized the point again.

“One of the bigger things we’re doing here is we’re eliminating the ability to develop the property as strip retail or commercial,” he said. “We’re eliminating mini-warehouses as an allowable use, outdoor storage as well as multi-family (housing). That’s significant.”

But VanSickler, asked to respond to Pitts’ argument at the Planning Commission meeting, pushed back, saying she’d prefer small businesses on the land rather than dozens of new homes.

“Let me ask you a question, if you don’t mind,” Planning Commission Chairman Steven Neeves asked VanSickler as she stood at the podium, speaking against the project. “Would you rather have commercial on there?”

“Yes,” VanSickler retorted. “In fact, I’ll put my walker aside and help you throw the first shovel.”

Pitts said Tuesday that he and the developer believe they’ve made enough accommodations to resident concerns and looking to move the project forward, despite continued concerns from residents.

“We’re willing to compromise with anyone who has a legitimate issue and we’ve bent over backwards and gone above and beyond to accommodate sometimes unfounded concerns,” he said.

One solution to the traffic concerns residents have raised would be to extend Gardner Lacy Road to International Drive, giving the road two access points instead of hitting a dead end as it does now. Horry County owns and has preserved the land needed to extend the road, but doesn’t currently have the funding for such a major project. A fourth iteration of the sales-tax-for-infrastructure program would likely be needed to afford the project, county Council member Johnny Vaught, who represents the area, has said.

In the meantime, the project will move forward to county council for final approval. Some residents see a unwanted outcome on the horizon.

“I’d use the word myopic. The town council and the developer are doing things for the money and I don’t think they’re thinking ahead,” said Reid. “I’m discouraged because they’re more concerned with the money than they are the people. They don’t seem to be able to see the future.”

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