The Horry County Council voted Tuesday to green-light the second part of a 215-home development in the Highway 90 corridor outside of Conway — an area that has generated concerns among residents as it experiences rapid growth.
The development, for 144 home lots along the paved section of Old Highway 90, passed 8-4 Tuesday night. Council Chairman Johnny Gardner was joined by council members Al Allen, Gary Loftus and Danny Hardee in voting against the project.
Hardee represents part of the Highway 90 corridor and previously has voiced support for restrictions on building or infrastructure improvements. Johnny Vaught and Bill Howard, who also represent the area, voted in favor of the project.
“I’m against any more building as well but we still have areas that are good for residents, and this is a good area,” Howard said before the vote. “And I really believe it will be a good project.”
The proposed development, in total, would place 215 new homes on about 100 acres. Council and county planners previously approved a neighboring project by the same developer for 69 homes built on 45 acres of adjacent property. Those 45 acres were previously rezoned from commercial forest agriculture — which allows for a number of farming, forestry and business uses — to residential.
The request before the County Council on Tuesday was to rezone the remaining 55 acres for 144 lots.
The Highway 90 corridor, including Highway 905, was farm land — mostly tobacco fields — before the U.S. Army used the area as part of a bombing range during World War II. The land reverted back to farmland when the military was finished with it. It remained a rural community until about two decades ago, when new homes and neighborhoods began popping up in the area.
Residents used to few neighbors and plenty of space have said growth in the area has strained existing infrastructure with flooding and worsening traffic, which has led to an increase in traffic accidents and fatalities.
Amelia Wood, who lives in the Tilly Swamp area, spoke before the County Council to oppose the development, arguing that traffic and a lack of infrastructure make building dozens of new homes in the area a bad idea.
“Do y’all really believe that it will be good for the public welfare to add more homes in a place where we don’t have enough infrastructure now?” she asked Council members.
Tammy Baker, who lives in the Lee’s Landing area, also told the Council that the increased traffic makes getting in and out of the area difficult.
“Highway 90 has become increasingly inundated with traffic with no relief in sight and I ask that you keep that in mind before you vote tonight,” she said.
Baker said the growth encroaches on the rural lifestyle that she and some of her neighbors sought in moving there.
“There’s some of us who wanted to live in the country and we’re being surrounded by urban sprawl,” she said.
Debating how to regulate growth
Council members said they also want the area to remain rural for the people who want that, but they can’t always stop development.
Council member Hardee said, for example, that some of the people who sell land to developers once were farmers who worked the land all their lives and are relying on selling their property so that they can retire.
“That’s his retirement, and if you tell him, ‘Nope, we’re not going to let you develop it,’ you just took that man’s retirement from him,” he said.
But council members on Tuesday were also open to debate about curtailing — or at least better regulating — development, both in the Highway 90 corridor and in other fast-growing areas. At one point, speaking about a different development project, Vaught said it isn’t the council’s place to halt development.
“We don’t have to stop development, we’ve just got to do the best job we can at it,” said Vaught, who represents part of Carolina Forest and Conway.
“I don’t mean to be argumentative but we can stop it,” responded Council member Harold Worley, who represents North Myrtle Beach. “If we don’t get some infrastructure in place, (traffic is) eventually going to stop, it’s going to be a big parking lot from Conway to the beach and from Conway to Longs.”
Residents also have raised concerns about the “fill and build” development technique used by many builders when constructing subdivisions in low-lying area. The method involves trucking in loads of dirt to raise a new home above flood levels, but some residents say that style of building inadvertently causes their property to flood, even if it prevents flooding in the new homes.
Residents also worry about public safety, specifically that the area doesn’t have a full-time manned fire station, meaning it takes longer for emergency responders to reach the area.
State data shows there have been 536 vehicle wrecks on Highway 90 since the start of 2019, with seven people dying in those crashes. Another 263 people were injured in those wrecks, the data shows.
During the council meeting, a vehicle wreck occurred on Highway 90, WMBF reported.
Impact fees back on the table?
Solutions to the increased growth vary. Some residents favor widening Highways 90 and 905, while others support only adding turning lanes in key congested areas. Some favor a ban on all development while others want to see a ban on building in wetlands and other low-lying areas.
Council members, too, have proposed a number of ideas, including a building moratorium that Hardee previously voiced support for, and widening Highways 90 and 905.
On Tuesday, discussion of the development along Highway 90, along with other development projects in the county, renewed debate among Council members about impact fees, which developers would have to pay when they build new homes and businesses.
Several members, including Howard, Worley, Hardee, Gardner and Dennis DiSabato, voiced support for implementing impact fees as a way to pay for roads and other infrastructure.
“The impact fees, we had that almost ready to roll, and then COVID-19 hit and we thought we’d back off to let the world get well before we put more pressure on residents paying more for their houses,” Howard said.
Gardner said it’s likely the County Council will renew discussion of implementing impact fees at the next Infrastructure and Regulation Committee meeting, or at an upcoming budget session. He’s in favor of the fees, he said.
“Whatever it takes to push it forward,” he said. “I think it’s a really good idea.”