golf course clearing

Tree cutting at the former Conway Golf Course is well underway as council waits to make its decision about annexation and zoning.

Concerns about flooding, expressed by a large group of residents who live near the former Conway Golf Club property, caused the developer of a proposed subdivision at the site to call for a pause in the approval process and a public meeting to reassure the residents.

Forrest Beverly told Conway City Council Monday night that he had hoped to bring the project’s engineer to the meeting, but she was unable to come.

Council had already voted 4-3 at a previous meeting to annex the property with an R zoning designation that requires 10,000-square-foot lots with a 100-foot minimum width. Second reading for the issue was on Monday’s agenda, but before a vote was taken Beverly asked that the issue be tabled.

The residents, who had met Friday night to prepare for the meeting, feared that council might step back from that vote and assign an R-1 zone to the property that would allow 7,500-square-foot lots with a 75-foot minimum width. The difference in the number of houses appears to be about 40. Beverly’s proposed plat for the area, with an R-1 zone, shows 198 homes.

But the group’s main concern is flooding and they want the threat of flooding eased before the project continues.

Eight Conway citizens spoke during public input, asking for the R zone and/or attention to be paid to Crabtree Canal.

About 30 residents, many of them dressed in red, attended the meeting to show their support for the speakers.

Horry County Senior Solicitor George DeBusk led the speakers saying an R-1 zone will change the character of the existing and vibrant neighborhood too much.

He said people move to Conway because it has character and council needs to keep it that way.

Madeline Soucy, granddaughter of Horry County auditor Lois Eargle, told council that she was born and raised in Conway, spending the majority of her life in the Windmeadows area that is located across Graham Road from the golf course property.

“A lot of people in my life have lived around this area for a long time,” she said, pointing particularly to her grandfather, Jack Eargle.

She and her grandmother both spoke about the two- to three-feet of water that got into the Eargles’ house, forcing them to leave and renovate a portion of their home. Jack Eargle died about one week after they moved back in, and both speakers believe the strain of the flood experience contributed to his death.

But, Soucy concluded, “I still think Conway, South Carolina, is the best place on the planet.”

It’s the place, she said, where she wants to raise her family.

But, she said, seeing so many houses being torn down, due to flood damage, is scary.

“Why not take proper steps to fix Crabtree so it won’t get worse,” she said, reminding the council members that they were elected to oversee the welfare of their citizens.

Henry Porter, a resident of Long Road, expressed concern about the value of surrounding homes if the development is too dense. He is expecting the value of his property to drop.

“Once the homes are built it will be too late to change it,” he said.

Barbara Eisenhardt, a resident of Wild Wing who has questioned council in the past about developments in that area, asked council to slow down, hold a public meeting with the residents and the developer and possibly come to a compromise.

“Life is about compromise…There’s usually not just one answer about what works best here…We do have lots of ideas,” she said.

Sallie Walbourne, who lives on Country Club Drive, said she wants an impact study done before more development is allowed in her neighborhood. She said she didn’t flood after Hurricane Florence, but she did see water nearby.

“I’ll be absolutely underwater next time,” she said, adding that nobody can convince her otherwise.

Environmentalist April O’Leary also lobbied for more work on Crabtree Canal, saying anything less than a Crabtree Swamp restoration will put more homes in peril.

Flood victim Frances Thomas told council she is still not back in her home.

In regard to Crabtree, she said, “It has to be cleaned out, widened, deepened, whatever has to be done…A whole section of Conway has been destroyed. I feel like that there’s been a lack of insight not only by the city council…but also the county council.”

She wants city and county leaders to get together to approach the U.S. Corps of Engineers to come up with a solution.

Without proper measures being taken, she said, water will continue to ruin that whole side of town.

Eargle, a Long Avenue resident, told council there was four-feet of water in her yard, catfish in her yard and brim in her house that had not flooded in the 35 years that she has lived there.

“With all these developments, it’s going to be worse and worse and worse,” she said.

Beverly told council that his Graham Road house didn’t flood, but his parents had some water problems after Florence.

He said he wants everyone to feel comfortable before he moves ahead with the project, and wants people to look back 20 years from now and be proud of the development.

Councilman William Goldfinch voiced support for that idea.

“Let’s just slow down. Let’s just get it right,” he said.

Goldfinch believes there is some misinformation moving through the community that needs to be addressed.

Councilwoman Jean Timbes pointed out that Beverly does not have to annex into the city. The majority of property is in the county now where he has SF20, or rural residential, zoning now. That zone allows far fewer homes than the city’s R; however, he can approach county council about a new, less restrictive zone if the city’s refuses his annexation request.

City planner Mary Catherine Hyman told council that Beverly can develop his property in the county and still get some city services. She also said the county’s standards are lower for tree cutting.

However, tree cutting is already well underway on the property.

If Beverly stayed in the county and was refused city water and sewer, he’d have to pass DHEC standards to install septic tanks, which City Administrator Adam Emrick doesn’t believe would be allowed.

Hyman says it is possible for city council to deny annexation, but give Beverly water and sewer service with the agreement that he will annex in the future.

Timbes said Beverly has been good about trying to explain his viewpoint and that there is more to the situation than was said at the meeting.

There was a question about the city hiring an independent hydrologist to study the situation, but Emrick said that isn’t a possibility because the property isn’t in the city.

Hyman says a traffic study will be required.

Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy said she wants council to understand the development’s impact, but Emrick said he doesn’t want the city to pay for a study for one development, asking where the city draws the line with going outside of its limits.

Blain-Bellamy wondered about studying the entire city, not just the Country Club area.

Two things she knows is that Crabtree Canal can’t go deeper because it’s already at the groundwater table, and she’s sure the Corps knows Conway wants an answer.

Goldfinch believes digging ditches to catch the water will help.

Councilman Tom Anderson suggested that the group call the S.C. Department of Transportation, state and federal legislators to complain about the U.S. 501 bypass. He says when water gets high, that road serves as a dam backing up water on its Conway side.

“I want to get rid of Dam Busbee and that’s all the road is is a dam. We’re so limited in what we can do,” he said.

He sees the fix as cutting holes and putting in box drains.

Emrick said the city is beginning now to plan for a flood every year, expecting floods in September, October and November. He told the group if water got close to their homes after Hurricane Florence, it will be inside of them next time. He believes flood insurance is the best answer.

A date and time for the public meeting on the golf course property had not been set as of the Horry Independent’s press time.

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I'm the editor of the Horry Independent, a weekly newspaper in Conway, South Carolina. I cover city hall and courts, among many other subjects. Know of a good story? Call me at 843-488-7241.

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