Updated: May 23, 2021
In 2017, Georgetown County hired an outside consultant (Stantec), at a cost of $200,000 to the taxpayers, to study and make recommendations about planning and zoning along the US 17 Corridor in the Waccamaw Neck. The results of that study came out at the end of 2020.
The attached letter is a joint position statement from Keep It Green and Preserve Murrells Inlet objecting to the study which recommends changes to allow high density development, smoothing the way for developers to overpopulate our community resulting in more traffic and flooding.
The proposed changes go against both public input and our current comprehensive plan. The details are in our letter. If you agree with us, please email County Council at firstname.lastname@example.org and request them not to approve the Stantec Companion Corridor Study.
As always, thank you for your support.
May 14, 2021 Dear Georgetown County Planning Commission & County Council Members: On behalf of thousands of taxpaying citizens of the Waccamaw Neck, Keep It Green, Inc. (KIG) and Preserve Murrells Inlet, Inc. (PMI) submit the following position statement on the Companion Corridor Study Draft dated November 24, 2020, prepared by Stantec. We understand this study was originally proposed by Councilman Goggans and approved by County Council at a cost of $200,000 to the taxpayers. According to language in the study, “the county will use this document as a roadmap for policy updates, initiative investments and project pursuits.” Representatives of KIG and PMI have spent considerable time reviewing and analyzing the Stantec report and while we recognize that it may have value for other communities that do not face the unique geographic and environmental challenges that exist here in the Waccamaw Neck, we believe it should be rejected in toto on the basis that it does not represent the voice of our community, it does not advance our best interests, and it violates the letter of our current comprehensive plan. Upon close examination, we have no choice but to conclude that the outcome of this report appears to have been pre-determined from the outset to benefit those who stand to profit from the agenda it promotes. There is no other plausible explanation for how or why a report that is supposed to be based on public input, would or could reach conclusions that directly contradict the clear and unequivocal desires repeatedly expressed by members of our community as well as the plain language of our land use plan which, by law, serves as the guide for present and future development. Our specific objections are as follows: 1. Public Input. The Stantec report is based on minimal and contrived “public input” that appears to have been carefully orchestrated. During the few instances of public input opportunities, members of the community were asked to choose their preference among several predetermined choices. “None of the above” was not an option. Despite the predisposed results, the true public sentiment came through loud and clear – no high density, avoid overdevelopment, preserve low-country character, maintain the 90-foot setback along US 17, preserve trees, and manage growth sustainably.
Notwithstanding the strong and unified voice of the people, the study ignores public input and makes the following contrary recommendations that coincide with high density development interests:
a. Reduce the current 90-foot setback along US 17 that protects our trees and creates the unique low-country charm of our area.
b. Urbanize our community.
c. Implement new form-based zoning codes that promote high density development.
These recommendations are in direct opposition to the public input communicated to Stantec as well as the current comprehensive plan.
2. Report does not address the potential consequences of its recommendations.
The report does not consider the impact of its high density proposals on the environment or existing infrastructure and offers no viable solutions to current traffic and flooding problems. The study does not include objective scientific data that addresses the consequences of high density development and other recommended changes on the geographic, geological, biological and environmental systems of the Waccamaw Neck. The potentially irreversible damage that could be caused by these proposals is a critical matter that should be thoroughly considered in any study about our future.
3. Conservation Easements & TDR.
The Stantec study suggests that to offset the negative effects of high density development on the environment and infrastructure, the responsibility and cost could be shifted from landowners who benefit from high density development to other landowners who do not benefit. The tools proposed to accomplish this are Conservation Easements and Transfer of Development Rights (TDR).
In reality, these mechanisms do not work. The Stantec study cited Beaufort as an example of a place where these tools have been employed. We checked with the Beaufort Planning staff who informed us that these tools are “on paper” only and there has not been a single TDR because there is no market or incentive for landowners to “up-zone” and give up their rights without receiving a corresponding benefit.
Reference to these tools is essentially empty rhetoric designed to justify high density zoning recommendations to an uninformed and unsophisticated public. Thankfully, we represent a well-informed and intelligent public.
4. The Fine Print.
The Stantec report is an example of the art of salesmanship. The package may look attractive superficially, but the details, which are buried in the fine print, are shocking. The following are several examples.
a. Statement of Purpose.
Perhaps the most disturbing statement is found deep in the details of page 16, wherein it states: “The county will use this document as a roadmap for policy updates, initiative investments and project pursuits.”
We are astounded by the boldness of this statement. Inasmuch as the precise purpose of the Land Use Element of the Comprehensive Plan is to guide future development and serve as the roadmap for policy updates, initiative investments, and project pursuits, it appears that the promoters of this plan are suggesting this document take on the same role as our Land Use Plan. This looks like a scheme to replace our land use plan with a contrary agenda by circumventing the requirements of the land use planning process.
There is no authority for this statement of purpose or its consequences. The Stantec study did not follow recommended planning practices for a land use plan update. It was not based on meaningful and true public input. It was not drafted by or at the direction of the Planning Commission. It has not been reviewed and approved by the Planning Commission or County Council to take the place of and/or guide the direction of the land use plan or to serve as a roadmap for future county decisions in any way.
Rather, the promoters of this study appear to be using their best efforts to railroad this plan through some kind of an approval process before anyone realizes the potential ramifications of what is happening. If this plan were to be “approved” on some level, those who favor high density development could then argue that the county is bound to follow this document as a guide for updating the land use plan and for other future decisions.
We are deeply troubled by the implications of this statement, and it is absolutely unacceptable.
b. Urbanization, Form-based Zoning Code, and High Density.
On page 74, the very first recommendation of the report is to consider Form Based Codes that are focused on the “urban form.” It appears that the primary goal is to justify high-density “urbanization” on the Waccamaw Neck, focused primarily on the largest recommended project – the Pawleys Village Center at Waverly & US 17. Once again, this recommendation is completely contrary to community input received by Stantec and the Planning Department.
It is curious that the details of this somewhat radical proposal are printed in the smallest font in the entire report and are not legible. They simply cannot be read or understood. It is ironic that the most critical and potentially objectionable information is in the finest print.
Likewise, on pages 82-85, the order in which the “top 10” projects are listed amounts to more virtue-signaling. The highest priority of the report is the last project mentioned. This seems like a further effort to justify high-density development and urbanization contrary to the goals of the current residents as clearly communicated to Stantec.
The report contains a substantial amount of canned new-urban verbiage that has been used in other cities which do not face the issues that exist here in the Waccamaw Neck.
c. Georgetown County to Capture Growth from Horry & Charleston Counties
The report states on page 30, “Given rapid growth in neighboring Horry and Charleston counties, does the study area want to reposition itself to capture more growth from the broader region?”
Given the fact that public input has been very clear and consistent that residents do not want the Waccamaw Neck to become another Myrtle Beach or Mount Pleasant, we cannot imagine why this would be suggested. Clearly, taking advantage of money-making opportunities for developers is a higher priority of this report than preserving the character of our community, our quality of life, and our environment.
d. Inaccurate & Misleading Comparisons and Illustrations
There are a multitude of misleading and inaccurate comparisons and illustrations throughout the report that are too numerous to mention here. They are detailed in a comprehensive list given to the Planning Department in December 2020 by a representative of PMI.
5. No Vision Statement.
There is no vision statement articulated in this report. Goals are presented without referencing a clearly stated vision that the goals support. The implied vision appears to be justification of high-density development in areas of the Waccamaw Neck despite the current Land Use Element and public input stating that high-density development, overcrowding and traffic congestion are serious problems and high-density development is unwanted.
6. The Report Excludes Arcadia East Plantation.
We understand from the drawing of the Arcadia East Plantation Land Use Plan that there are more than 3,300 residential units, a hotel, and more than 1.6 million square feet of office and commercial space already approved. If this site is developed, it would have a major impact on traffic, infrastructure, environment, and all aspects of life on the Waccamaw Neck. Arcadia should not be excluded from any legitimate corridor planning study.
Our citizens groups have repeatedly requested that Arcadia along with all other Planned Developments that have been approved and not built within two years, revert back to the original zoning as our current ordinance requires. We beg our county to please follow its own laws.
7. Stakeholder Committee.
The county’s contract with Stantec states, “Upon finalizing the contract, we will work with County staff to develop a Stakeholder Committee of key corridor players. The group should be diverse and limited to 10-12 individuals.” It further states, “We would like to meet with key property owners, residents and private developers currently working in and around the corridor.”
We do not know who these “key players” are, but they apparently do not include representatives from the two largest citizens groups in the county that speak for thousands of taxpaying residents of the Waccamaw Neck. It is curious that notwithstanding many requests by KIG and PMI over a period of years to have representatives take part in land use planning matters, no one from either of our two groups was invited to participate on these committees. We wonder whether any community groups were represented or if representation was limited to government and developer interests.
KIG and PMI care deeply about our community and are very concerned about its future. The fact that the Waccamaw Neck is different from surrounding urbanized communities is a quality that has attracted residents, businesses and tourists for generations. This difference drives a significant part of Georgetown County’s economy. We feel strongly that the introduction of urbanization and high-density development, as proposed in this study, jeopardizes these important qualities and puts the future of the Waccamaw Neck and Georgetown County at risk.
We believe it is time for our county officials and the public to begin working together on a citizen-driven vision and plan for our future. No more unnecessary outside consultants. No more catering to special interests. We need to tap into the wealth of talent and expertise we have at our disposal in Georgetown County.
Our two citizens groups are ready and willing to immediately organize and mobilize to assist the county in every way possible to come up with a legitimate citizen-driven vision and plan for the Waccamaw Neck. We look forward to working with our county officials toward a plan that is transparent, completely above board, and not driven by an agenda.
Thank you for your kind attention and consideration.
KEEP IT GREEN, INC.
By: Cindy Ranck Person, Chairman
PRESERVE MURRELLS INLET, INC.
By: Leon Rice, President
cc: Angela Christian