Horry County officials know some local two-lane roads need to be widened.
Thoroughfares such as S.C. 90, S.C. 905 and even Cates Bay Highway will require additional lanes to accommodate increased traffic.
But county leaders are increasingly concerned about a construction trend: developers building homes closer to roads, making any future widening more difficult — and more expensive.
“This is what we’re dealing with,” said John Danford, the county’s deputy director of planning and zoning. “This is what we’re seeing on a daily basis in the planning department.”
Widening roads is already expensive. Because of the swamps and other low-lying areas in the S.C. 90 corridor, county officials have said expanding that road alone could cost more than half a billion dollars.
Many county roads were designed before the internal combustion engine, meaning they are undersized. In most cases, the county requires that homes built in these corridors be set back 25 feet from the road. County staff are asking Horry County Council members to potentially double that requirement. They fear that if development continues as it has in these areas, those neighborhoods will be problematic when the roads need to be widened. There are safety issues with pushing highways close to houses and the county could be forced to spend more money to purchase right-of-way areas because the cost would include buying houses in addition to land.
During Horry County Council’s Infrastructure and Regulation Committee meeting last week, council members reviewed plans for some developments that were proposed for Cates Bay Highway and Brown’s Way Shortcut Road.
“Why do they do this? Because it’s cheaper to do it that way,” Danford said of building near roads. “You have to pour less pavement for the driveway. It’s less utilities to get to the house. It’s cheaper all around to put the house closer to the existing street.”
To understand just how crowded things could get, county staff noted that on S.C. 905 a minor subdivision (10 lots or fewer) could be built in some areas at the minimum legal setback from the road. If 905 is widened, those homes would be 2.5 feet from the highway.
“That’s where the concern is,” Danford said. “When you’re talking about 905 and 90, we have the same exact zoning in place there as we do on these smaller rural corridors.”
Council members also seem concerned about what’s happening.
“We’re boxing ourselves in,” said councilman Al Allen, whose district includes the Cates Bay Highway corridor.
Councilman Orton Bellamy, whose district covers the U.S. 701 South corridor in Bucksport, agreed that council members need to consider extending the minimum setback to 50 or 60 feet in certain areas.
“We know that there’s going to have to be road widening at some point,” he said.
The concerns go beyond small subdivisions and houses facing the road. It’s also a challenge with larger developments. Danford pointed to a project on Highway 50 in Little River. If that road is ever widened, the highway would come into the backyards of some neighborhoods.
“It’s not just the parcels that are fronting the actual highway,” he said. “But it could be the parcels interior to the actual subdivisions.”
Councilman Dennis DiSabato worries about people purchasing those homes.
“I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that information is not being disclosed by the sales agents,” he said. “We almost have to do something.”
Some county officials said they like the setbacks in the Lowcountry community of Mt. Pleasant. They’d rather see residential corridors with more trees and vegetation.
“As you drive down the road and stuff, you don’t want to look and see all these houses,” Allen said, adding that he prefers the development approach of Mt. Pleasant. “I don’t see how anybody can argue with that if they want to keep a rural look to things.”
This subject isn’t new. In 2008, county officials discussed requiring 60-foot setbacks for developments in the S.C. 90, S.C. 905 and U.S. 701 corridors. However, county officials opted to focus on land use policies, not setbacks.
County staff had already been researching new policies for rural zoning and flood mitigation. Last week, council members asked them to include new setback rules in their upcoming proposals. Danford said the staff research would focus on specific corridors rather than a general approach. He noted that in some cases a 60-foot setback would be too much.
Council members stressed that acting quickly would make managing growth easier.
“Have that in place now for future development,” Bellamy said. “Because it’s going to happen.”