Conway Medical Center again asked Horry County Council to delay a vote on rezoning land for a Carolina Forest hospital so the provider can have more time to address the concerns of state officials and neighbors.
CMC spokeswoman Allyson Floyd said Friday that CMC leaders plan to meet next week with state wildlife officials, county staff and residents who live near the site of the proposed $161 million hospital.
“We’re going to continue to have conversations,” she said. “We want to do anything we can do to allay any concerns.”
Earlier this month, county council postponed the first of three votes needed for the rezoning so the stakeholders could meet to discuss their issues. The group originally planned to meet on Jan. 21, but the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had a board meeting that day and couldn’t make it.
DNR’s concerns about the hospital are the main reason county council members have been reluctant to support the project. Since October, the state agency has opposed the rezoning, even asking county officials not to approve it.
The nearly 360-acre tract being considered for the 50-bed hospital sits across International Drive from the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve. As part of the state’s land management efforts, the preserve land is periodically burned and the road is closed. DNR leaders have said a hospital is incompatible with their burning efforts.
County leaders are worried about DNR’s objections. They fear that approving the hospital rezoning could jeopardize their plans to establish a wetlands mitigation bank on an adjacent tract. The county purchased more than 3,700 acres for the bank in 2018. By restoring wetlands on that property, the county aims to earn credits that would be used to for infrastructure projects, specifically those in the county’s nearly $600 million road-building program.
DNR is one of the agencies that evaluates mitigation bank proposals, and county leaders don’t want that organization to withhold support for their bank if they sign off on the hospital rezoning.
Jason Thompson, the manager of the county’s roads program, said last week that local officials were preparing to submit their final paperwork for the mitigation bank approval, which could come as early as this summer. That approval is critical to the future of the program, which is called RIDE III.
“Moving forward, most of the DOT projects are still 18-24 months out,” Thompson said. “So credits are not the drop-dead thing tomorrow, but it’s something that we’ve got to get in place. … [With] this rezoning, we need to work through all of the big picture down to the little picture to make sure that all parties are protected.”
Apart from the mitigation bank concerns, residents in The Farm subdivision have complained about the potential for light and noise pollution if the hospital is built there.
CMC has sought to respond to all concerns. When DNR first opposed the rezoning, the provider redesigned the hospital and moved it closer to the more developed end of International Drive. But that decision upset the Farm residents because they didn’t want the facility close to their homes. A third, more centrally located option has also been discussed.
DNR has not said whether the hospital would impact the mitigation bank approval.
Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught, whose district includes part of Carolina Forest, said the council will likely defer the hospital vote until the Feb. 16 meeting to provide additional time for a potential solution to be reached. Vaught will talk with the parties next week and he said he’s trying to listen to all the stakeholders.
“I’m going to see what we can come up with,” he said, adding that the parties need more time. “It just doesn’t make any sense to vote on it.”
Tuesday’s council meeting begins at 6 p.m. The rezoning request is not on the agenda.
Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236