When Steve Geng looks at the construction sites in the back section of Carolina Forest, he sees business growth finally catching up with the community’s residential development.
“We’ve got a lot of houses being built,” said Geng, a Realtor who lives in the Berkshire Forest neighborhood. “We’ve got to build up the infrastructure for that. The CVS would be perfect. A little strip mall like this is perfect. … We’ve got all these residential neighborhoods opening up and ballooning up. We’ve got to be able to satisfy their needs as a community.”
Some of the projects have been in the works for years while other plans were filed this summer. Two strip malls are being planned near the intersection of River Oaks Drive and International Drive, said David Schwerd, the county’s interim planning director. Those are in addition to a CVS pharmacy and an indoor storage facility that are already under construction in that area and other projects that have been completed in the last year, such as a dental office.
Schwerd said a six-unit strip mall is planned for the site at the intersection of Village Center Boulevard and River Oaks Drive. No tenants have been identified yet. The other strip mall is expected to go up near Lowes Foods, between Fresh Drive and Crisp Street, according to plans filed in June with the county. That mall will house five tenants, but those businesses have not been identified either, according to county records.
Some businesses, such as the CVS, have long been desired by residents, and their wait is almost over. CVS Health spokeswoman Stephanie Cunha said the International Drive CVS will open in late October.
“That’ll be very convenient,” said Rick Wimpey, who lives in Carolina Forest. “I believe they’ll do very well where it’s at.”
Wimpey moved to the area more than three years ago. Although he said it’s nice to see more businesses and jobs come in, Carolina Forest still lags behind in infrastructure.
“I travel these roads every single day, seven days a week and I doubt very seriously if there’s been a day that goes by that there hasn’t been at least one accident,” he said. “I wish there was a simple way to fix that, but something’s got to be done. If they’re going to add more, it’s only going to get worse with the traffic.”
Along with better roads, Wimpey said improving the police presence in the community would also help reduce speeding.
He called Carolina Forest Boulevard a “nightmare” during the school year, and he said the heavy traffic forces him to leave for work 15 minutes earlier than normal.
Despite his concerns about the boulevard, he said he hasn’t noticed many traffic problems with the extension of International Drive to S.C. 90 that was completed in July.
“When I get in this area here, it’s no big deal,” he said. “School traffic may change that.”
Like Wimpey, resident Monte Harding is frustrated by the road congestion in Carolina Forest.
“I’m fine with things coming to the area because there is a lot of people who live here,” said Harding, who lives in The Farm. “When I moved in here eight years ago it was because it was a planned community, which I thought was a great thing. I don’t see any planning.”
She said the surge of business growth seems haphazard.
“They’re just kind of being plopped all over and it just looks messy,” she said. “You would think as beautiful as Market Common looks and all the planning that they took in that, we could do something a little bit better here. But businesses are going to come. What can you do?”
Harding stressed that infrastructure should be in place before the stores arrive.
“Put in some roads first,” she said. “Take care of what’s going on and then let the businesses come in.”
Harding hopes to move out of The Forest.
“Everybody hates it,” she said, adding that speeding in the area and police response times are also issues of concern. She said once she called the police and over an hour later she was called back and asked if the problem had been resolved.
“You can be in Socastee,” she said.
“They’ve got the new [S.C.] 707. They’ve got a new school. They have plenty of police. Nobody ever seems to complain. … We have all these people in the community, all these people paying taxes. How can roads and police and schools not be covered in those taxes?”
Brian Griffiths remains cautiously optimistic about the business growth in Carolina Forest.
“Anything coming in is going to help us all hopefully,” said Griffiths, who runs the Charlie Graingers restaurant on Fresh Drive. “CVS will bring more people. More people see my store.”
The expansion of International Drive has been helpful, he said, as some customers from the S.C. 90 corridor now have access to his restaurant. However, he said all growth should follow infrastructure.
“Hopefully it helps everybody as long as we’ve got the roads,” he said. “That seems to be the big thing around here. … It needs to be controlled growth.”
Much of the concern about Carolina Forest Boulevard focuses on the fact that a long section of the road is just two lanes. However, county officials plan to break ground on a boulevard widening project in the spring. The $54.7 million road project ranks No. 3 on in the county’s RIDE III road-building program.
The project calls for expanding the two-lane portion of the boulevard to four lanes from Gateway Drive to River Oaks Drive and building a multi-purpose path beside the road.
Although many residents have expressed frustration about growth outpacing infrastructure in Carolina Forest, county officials have said they don’t plan to approve rezoning requests until some of the major road projects, particularly the widening of the boulevard, are finished.
That means the properties are limited to what their zoning allows.
“While there is much land left in Carolina Forest,” Schwerd, the interim planning director said, “the majority of the remaining land has approved residential plans or is already zoned to allow commercial development.”
Geng, the Realtor, acknowledged that there will be growing pains from widening the boulevard, but he said the benefits will be great.
“That’s going to hurt a little bit,” he noted. “but just like at [S.C.] 707, it’s going to sting a little bit before it gets better because it will get better.”
As far as additional traffic coming from growth, he said he accepts it because he’s contributing to it.
“I moved here because it is growing,” he said, “and I’m part of that.”