Faced with a relentless building boom, Horry County Council on Tuesday again raised the prospect of creating impact fees for new construction.
Council members slowed their pursuit of impact fees last year over concerns that any new levies would hurt the local economy during the COVID-19 crisis. Yet the demand for housing hasn’t slowed. As more rezoning requests are filed for new developments, county officials remain concerned about their infrastructure keeping pace with growth.
“We can stop development,” councilman Harold Worley said. “If we don’t get some infrastructure in place, it’s going to stop. It’s going to be a big parking lot from Conway to the beach and from Conway to Longs. … At some point in time, we’re going to have to get this impact fee put in place.”
During Tuesday night’s meeting, the council passed the second of three votes needed to approve rezoning requests for multiple developments. Those included:
• A 144-lot subdivision on 55 acres off Old Highway 90
• A 301-acre project consisting of 214 single-family homes and 63 townhouses near the intersection of U.S. 501 and S.C. 31
• A nearly 200-lot subdivision on just under 100 acres off S.C. 905
As council members discussed the rezonings, some residents brought up concerns about the potential impact of additional building in their neighborhoods.
Amelia Wood, who lives in the S.C. 90 corridor, discussed the challenges of that two-lane highway, which runs through a low-lying area and continues to see interest from developers. She cautioned the council about the cost of allowing continued construction there.
“Keep in mind this,” she said. “The cost will be paid, not just by people that live on Highway 90, but all citizens of Horry County in the form of increased taxes for infrastructure and stormwater management and the decrease in natural infrastructure that we really need to mitigate against flooding.”
The topic of impact fees came up during a discussion about a project on S.C. 905, which like S.C. 90 saw portions of the road closed during flooding from Hurricane Florence in 2018.
Councilman Dennis DiSabato said he agreed with Worley about the need for revisiting the subject.
“We let this impact fee thing fall by the wayside,” he said. “We need to address some of these concerns through an impact fee.”
Council members requested an impact fee study after a 2018 advisory referendum showed strong local support for the fees, which would be collected on new construction. The idea behind them is that these fee revenues can help offset the cost of the infrastructure and services needed to support new homes and businesses.
Under the fee system outlined in the county-funded study, the cost of a new home in unincorporated Horry County would increase by more than $4,500. However, the fees are projected to bring in more than $210 million for county projects over 10 years.
During council budget discussions last year, council members questioned why the commercial fees were so high. For example, under those rates, the county impact fees for building a 10,000-square-foot auto repair shop would amount to nearly $100,000. And constructing a major retail project could have impact fees in the millions.
The consultant who worked on the study told council members that the fees had to pay for new construction's impact on services and infrastructure. Retail projects take a heavier toll, and that’s why those fees would be higher.
Despite council’s discomfort last year, several members expressed support for pursuing them now.
“The only reason it got set aside was because of COVID,” council chairman Johnny Gardner said.