S.C. 90 residents urged Horry County officials to slow development in their community until critical infrastructure is in place.
More than 200 people attended the Thursday night meeting at Tilly Swamp Baptist Church to discuss their concerns over growth along the two-lane highway.
As more homes are built and more people move to the area, residents are worried about recurring problems with flooding and traffic. They fear the county council will approve more rezoning requests — clearing the way for more subdivisions — without making the necessary infrastructure improvements first.
Several residents who moved to the Conway area a few years ago and enjoyed living here said they hate it now because the lifestyle they found so attractive has been disrupted by relentless growth.
“Developing is here; it’s inevitable," said Felicia Soto, who lives on Bear Bluff Road. "The question is what plans are all of you going to have in place, not only the county but those who are represented by the state. We need you to help us here on 90.”
Councilman Danny Hardee, whose district includes part of the S.C. 90 corridor, said widening the road to four lanes needs to happen, but finding the more than half-billion needed to do that will be difficult.
Councilman Johnny Vaught suggested taking an incremental approach. Instead of widening the entire road at once, he said the county could focus on widening and raising the road to reduce flooding in three “trouble spots:” Steritt Swamp, Tilly Swamp and Jones Big Swamp.
“Let’s fix the most critical stuff,” Vaught said.
Vaught told the audience that money from the council’s fire safety budget has been set aside for building a more than $2 million fire station close to the intersection of S.C. 22 and S.C. 90. He said it will operate 24 hours a day and have emergency medical services. It will take 18-24 months to complete. He said they look to announce it officially in a week.
Vaught also said the council has redrawn the flood maps for Horry County, taking into account the flood levels after Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Several residents asked what the county could do to help alleviate the recurring flooding. While expanding the road will help with traffic, they are worried what the consequences will be if more concrete is laid down and more trees are uprooted.
Vaught explained that all developments have to have a stormwater plan to help contain and manage stormwater during heavy rains.
Vaught said they have had difficulty in the past with acquiring easements to carve ditches around people’s property to clean them out. However, he said they just passed an ordinance that would allow them to condemn that specific area of land so that they could get their equipment there and work on them. They will also be looking at dragging the rivers to remove debris that impedes water flow.
Kurt Starks, who lives off S.C. 90 and is within a quarter mile of the S.C. 22 interchange, said the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) removed infrastructure in front of his home that has caused flooding problems.
“Last year, my wife and I spent over $17,000 out of our own pocket to reduce flooding coming off Highway 90, which was destroying the front of our property,” Starks said. “We’ve been in touch with everybody imaginable. We sent out certified letters to our council members; we got no response. We heard the vote this council just put forth expecting us to pay more money for flood control. How much more, as homeowners, do we have to pay to stop the flooding on Highway 90?”
Soto said it’s because of issues like these that plans have to be made.
“I could cry right now feeling for this family,” Soto said. “Not only does the county have to be held accountable for this, our state has to be responsible for this.”
State Rep. Tim McGinnis, R-Carolina Forest, said he is well aware of these concerns. McGinnis said he plans to contact Kevin Hardee and William Bailey to set up meetings with SCDOT and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).
“We need to work with the county,” McGinnis said. “We need to rein in development. We need to ensure that the building that’s happening out here is responsible development.”
McGinnis also said he believes incrementally widening S.C. 90 would be “the best way to go.” With the redistricting that’s coming up in the fall, he hopes the area will gain more representation at the state level, which will enable them to have a greater voice in allocating the state budget.
David Jordan, the county’s director of planning and zoning, said he would probably be the “least popular person here” before he stated the number of permitted developments along S.C. 90 at this time: 4,228 single-family homes and 864 multi-family homes.
Steve Powell, an engineer, said the concerns about flooding have been “blown out of proportion.” Powell said they should approve high-density rezonings closer to the beach. Recently, the county denied his request to rezone areas off S.C. 544, which he said was a mistake because this development would be closer to jobs and provide opportunities for people who need affordable housing.
“The longterm solution is going to be to make improvements to Highway 90 like they did on Highway 544, but that could be 15, 20 years in the future,” Powell said. “The problem you have is that growth often happens before infrastructure catches up, and there really is no way to fix that. We need to get more growth along the corridors that can support the growth. Highway 9, for example, already has a four-lane road.”
Soto said she would organize another meeting in September so that county council members could speak with residents about what progress has been made and what long-term solutions there are to their concerns.
During this month's planning commission meeting, planning officials laid out their concerns about the consistent growth along S.C. 90. They recommended that the county council not rezone 55 acres of farmland to accommodate 121 new single family houses on S.C. 90, which is just south of Old Reaves Ferry Road. County staff recommended the same thing because of the infrastructure challenges.
Charging impact fees for road improvements could provide limited funding to the desired infrastructure changes. County officials have estimated that expanding S.C. 90 and raising the road’s low-lying areas could cost more than half a billion dollars.
The county council voted Tuesday to start charging impact fees of $1,236 per home on Oct. 15. Other types of new construction will also be subject to the levies. Council members said they will consistently revisit the fees and may add other components in the future.
The planning commission is scheduled to meet Aug. 5 to review rezoning requests for 527 single-family homes near the intersection of S.C. 90 and Vaught Ridge Road and for 97 townhomes directly off S.C. 90 in the Longs area.
The proposals go to the county council for a final decision after the commission makes its recommendations on the rezonings.