Horry County residents have one more chance to share their views about the plan that will guide development here for the next 20 years.
IMAGINE 2040, the county’s comprehensive plan, is scheduled for a third and final vote Tuesday. In recent months, the plan has drawn criticism from some environmental advocates for an amendment that affects the way the county approves development in scenic or conservation areas.
“We are giving developers all the cards,” said Erin Pate, north coast director of the Coastal Conservation League. She spoke against the amendment at a county council meeting earlier this month. “[Developers get] all of the opportunity and more access to the political process while citizens from Longs to Highway 90, from Conway to Bucksport, are fearing for their future. If the 2040 plan is approved as is, you’re stacking the deck against local residents and giving developers the upper hand.”
Under the proposed change, if the county plan calls for an area to be scenic or conservation land, the property owner would be allowed to provide the county’s planning staff with more information about the site and potential design changes to mitigate a project’s environmental impact.
County staff maintain this is a positive change because it provides flexibility for the property owner to address concerns about a development rather than for a rezoning request to be rejected outright.
Along with county staff, the amendment has the support of the Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors, the organization representing the local real estate industry.
“[The amendment] gives the county the ability and tools to make decisions on a case by case basis through a lens which is consistent with the character of our community and the impact on surrounding landscape,” Madison Cooper, CCAR’s director of government affairs, told county council on Aug. 13.
Cooper acknowledged that residents are concerned about the impact of growth on the area’s infrastructure, but she said the focus shouldn’t be simply halting development but improving quality of life.
“Realtors don’t just sell homes,” she said. “We sell communities. Realtors understand that building strong communities requires a balance between ensuring economic opportunity, protecting private property rights, preserving our environment, and providing affordable housing choices.”
Opponents of the amendment, however, see the proposal as a loophole that will allow vulnerable and flood-prone properties to be developed.
“Your constituents are asking you for firm, not flexible rules that apply to scenic and conservation areas,” Pate told council members, adding that the amendment should be removed from the plan.
The Waccamaw Riverkeeper agrees. A full-time advocate for the Waccamaw, the Riverkeeper issued a news release last week urging residents to contact local officials and ask them to scrap the amendment.
“After months of tireless work by the steering committee, Imagine 2040, the county’s comprehensive plan, was presented with a last minute change which severely weakens protections for areas identified as scenic and conservation,” the release stated. “The revised language allows for rezoning within scenic and conservation areas when considered at the parcel level. These rezonings do not account for watershed-based long-term planning that helps to protect the floodplain and mitigate the impacts of flooding on people and properties.”
David Schwerd, the county's director of planning and zoning, said Thursday that county staff have tried to address residents' concerns about the plan. He added that county officials are also finalizing a process for changing the future land use map.
That process, he said, will "lay it out and black and white the step by step way you go to submit your rezonings."
The public hearing and final vote on IMAGINE 2040 will be held during the meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. inside the Horry County Government & Justice Center in Conway.