Wary of overdevelopment along S.C. 90, some Horry County Council members insist they will no longer approve rezonings for major subdivisions in certain sections of that corridor.
The move comes as county staffers are being inundated with rezoning requests for new housing. Next month, plans for more than 1,000 homes will be presented to the county’s planning commission, according to public records. That includes a proposal for building 527 houses on S.C. 90.
“Highway 90’s bad now,” said councilman Danny Hardee, whose district covers a portion of the corridor. “And I don’t want to see another [S.C.] 544.”
Before S.C. 544 was widened, a minor wreck could snarl traffic, making the drive from Conway to Surfside Beach an agonizing crawl. County officials estimate that expanding S.C. 90 and raising the road’s low-lying areas could cost well over half a billion dollars. That’s far more than the maximum amount impact fees could generate over 10 years ($133 million) and possibly as much as the county’s entire eight-year RIDE III road construction program ($592 million), which is funded by a sales tax.
“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Hardee said. “The county cannot do that road by itself. It’s just too much money. … And turning down some of these rezonings is what it’s going to take.”
Councilman Johnny Vaught agrees. He has roots in the Tilly Swamp community, and he’s advocated for raising the low sections of S.C. 90 near Tilly Swamp and Sterritt Swamp ever since Hurricane Florence left families in the community marooned in 2018. During that disaster, floodwater covered sections of the highway, cutting off access.
“We’ve got to fix that for those people,” Vaught said. “It’s terrible.”
Next week, county planning staff and elected officials will meet with residents to discuss the challenges of the area’s growth. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday inside Tilly Swamp Baptist Church.
“It’s about capacity issues and flooding issues on Highway 90,” said David Jordan, the county’s director of planning and zoning. “It’s to gather all the stakeholders in an environment that’s not a council meeting and not a planning commission meeting to talk about the concerns on 90, and possible fixes and where we go from here.”
Both Vaught and Hardee said they don’t see a need to halt building along the entire S.C. 90 corridor, but they don’t want people moving into areas where neighbors are already susceptible to being stranded during a flood. Until the county can find a funding source for the needed infrastructure improvements, both council members said they won’t vote for rezonings in those areas. They plan to ask their peers on the council to take the same position.
The effort is similar to what councilman Harold Worley did for the Highway 57 corridor late last year. In November, the council approved a resolution indicating that county leaders would not support high-density rezonings in that area until the northern extension of S.C. 31 is finished.
During this week’s planning commission meeting, planning officials outlined their concerns about surging growth along S.C. 90.
The commission recommended that county council not rezone 55 acres of farmland to accommodate 121 new single family houses on S.C. 90 just south of Old Reaves Ferry Road. County staff made the same recommendation, citing the infrastructure challenges.
“When Florence came, this was an island,” Jordan said, noting that the community's access was cut off for several days. “There is a concern with Highway 90 [and] putting additional housing in that area.”
Planning commissioner Jody Prince, who represents the same district Hardee serves, said he’s watched the S.C. 90 corridor “just explode.”
“This part especially of Highway 90, I don’t see how we can put anything else in there,” he said, adding that he would not support rezonings for any major subdivisions in the southern section of S.C. 90 near Conway.
Residents also spoke out against the 55-acre proposal, pointing out the flooding and traffic issues already impacting that area.
“Building is inevitable,” said Felicia Soto, who lives on Bear Bluff Road. “However, we’ve got building going on, increasing to a point that we can’t sustain it. And we have infrastructure going nowhere.”
Soto emphasized that other subdivisions along S.C. 90 are still building homes within those developments, and that doesn’t include the new neighborhoods being constructed.
“What is Horry County planning to do to keep us safe?” she asked. “Shoving these communities in an area where infrastructure hasn’t changed? Something has to give.”
Amelia Wood, another resident of the S.C. 90 corridor, noted that the growing community is served by a small volunteer fire station.
“Fire safety is an extreme concern,” she said. “We don’t have the infrastructure to support fire safety.”
Some neighbors have circulated an online petition that asks county council to approve a moratorium on high-density residential development in the S.C. 90 corridor until the needed infrastructure improvements have been made. So far, more than 500 people have signed the petition.
“That’s a pretty good number of people that feel the same way we do,” said Tammy Baker, who spoke at the planning commission meeting.
The same year Hurricane Florence flooded Horry County, the extension of International Drive opened, connecting S.C. 90 with Carolina Forest. The 90 corridor had already seen residential development for years, but that interest only grew after the long-awaited road project was completed.
“International was a blessing or was it a curse?” asked Marvin Heyd, a real estate agent representing the landowner who wants to rezone the 55 acres on S.C. 90. “Because it opened the gateway from Myrtle Beach to Highway 90 and 905 where your developers are going.”
A former county councilman, Heyd said decades ago he suggested charging developers impact fees to help pay for the infrastructure needed to serve new construction. The idea didn’t gain traction then. Next week, county leaders are scheduled to take their final vote on creating those fees.
“Twenty years ago, we could have fixed it,” he said. “Nobody would listen to me. … It’ll take 30 years of impact fees to help fix Highway 90.”
However, Heyd said thousands of people are moving to the county each month and they will need somewhere to live.
“I wish there was a magic wand that we could say we’re going to fix these problems [with],” he said. “But at the end of the day it’s up to the county council.”
Council members will certainly be faced with key development decisions in the coming weeks.
Apart from the council's impact fee vote Tuesday, the Aug. 5 planning commission meeting schedule includes 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.
Once the commission makes its recommendations on the rezonings, the proposals go to county council for a final decision.