Dennis DiSabato

­Joseph DiLorenzo surveyed the silver tops in the Carolina Forest Recreation Center’s meeting room and made an observation.

This crowd might not see the construction of the S.C. 31 interchange.

“Looking around the room, myself included, we’ll probably be somewhere but not here,” he said June 19 after Horry County Council members told him the project could be 8-15 years from becoming reality.

A day earlier, council members had unanimously voted to acquire about 20 acres for an interchange project in the heart of Carolina Forest. The property is expected to cost $1.2 million and would be used for an interchange connecting S.C. 31, Augusta Plantation Drive and Revolutionary War Way. That project would provide an outlet for traffic on Carolina Forest Boulevard.

“All the people living here that have to deal with Carolina Forest Boulevard know that it is not only trying at times, but it’s also dangerous,” DiLorenzo said.

Although the upcoming land purchase will preserve the property for the project, county officials said the $47 million needed for the interchange likely won’t be available until the county’s RIDE 4 road-building program, which could be more than a decade away.

“It’s not a matter of the wheels grinding slow,” said councilman Dennis DiSabato, whose district includes part of Carolina Forest. “We just don’t have the revenue to build that road.”

Just buying the land for the interchange has been years in the making.

County officials have been preparing to purchase the property since they placed the interchange on the county’s official map in 2017. Adding the interchange to the map gave the county the first opportunity to buy the property. 

At their June 18 meeting, council members had to decide whether to approve an exemption to the official map. Had they agreed to the exemption, they would have allowed the property owner, Forestar Real Estate Group, to pursue a rezoning for developing the property.

But they did not approve the exemption — which is what the planning commission and county staff had asked them to do — and that signaled their intent to move forward with acquiring the land.

County staffers have said they can likely negotiate a sale with Forestar for about $60,000 an acre. They said funding for the land could potentially come from surplus money in the RIDE II roads program. 

“That’s probably the best resource available for something like that,” DiSabato said.

The 20 acres sit inside the The Parks, a residential development spanning more than 400 acres that is under construction beside Carolina Forest Boulevard. 

Although Forestar paid $40,000 an acre for the land, county staff said purchasing the property now would be cheaper than allowing it to be developed and then paying homeowners for their lots and houses. 

The proposed interchange had been considered for the county’s RIDE programs, though it wasn’t included.

“It was a high priority,” said David Schwerd, the county’s director of planning and zoning. “It just barely missed the cut. … That is a needed project. It is in our long-range transportation plan.”

Although DiLorenzo acknowledged that funding can be tough to find, he stressed there’s a need for fees in Horry to build vital infrastructure like the interchange. Impact fees are one-time levies designed to offset the cost of development.

Council members are looking at some options for impact fees. State law limits how communities can spend those dollars, but county officials are waiting on the results of an impact fee study that would show potential uses.

 “That’s one of the things that’s on our radar right now,” DiSabato said.

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