CORRECTION: The Dec. 8 community meeting about this development will be from 4-6 p.m. at the South Strand Recreation Center. The story has been updated to reflect the correct time.
A development spanning more than 700 acres could transform the area around St. James High School by adding thousands of homes and more than half a million square feet of commercial space.
The project, which needs a rezoning before it can be constructed, will be discussed at a community meeting on Dec. 8 from 4-6 p.m. at the South Strand Recreation Center (9650 Scipio Lane, Myrtle Beach). The engineering firm working on the plans and county staff will be there to hear residents’ concerns and answer questions.
“This is a big deal,” said Al Jordan, president of the Greater Burgess Community Association. “There’s going to be a lot of discussion about it. … The community ought to have an opportunity to learn about it and ask questions before it’s being considered for anything. Because there’s going to be 5,000 questions.”
The site, which is adjacent to the high school and also borders the Blackmoor Golf Club, actually covers about 1,500 acres. However, county officials said much of the property is wetlands and the rezoning would be limited to 706 acres.
The proposal calls for constructing 2,156 single-family homes and 1,538 multi-family units (i.e. condos, apartments, townhouses) on the property, which would have two points of access on S.C. 707 and another on Freewoods Road, according to public records. Plans call for building 552,000 square feet of commercial space there, too.
“This is a major project,” said Pam Dawson, the planning commissioner for the area. “It would increase the population in the Burgess community by over 9,800 people. The current population is around 32,000. This project alone would increase the population in this area by about 30%. … We need to approach this with a great deal of diligence and forethought and include the community comments and questions and get them addressed before we move forward.”
Some aspects of the proposal concern Dawson, particularly the plans for multi-family complex construction over three stories, which she said is inconsistent with the long-term plan for the Burgess area.
“That’s an issue that needs to be resolved,” she said. “It’s inconsistent with the plan and it’s out of character with the community.”
Dawson also worries about how the area’s schools would handle the influx of additional students, particularly since some are near or over capacity. For example, St. James Elementary is at 102% capacity, while St. James High is at 108%, according to public records.
“I just don’t feel like there’s been adequate time to really study this,” she said during a planning commission workshop Wednesday.
Fellow commissioner Joey Ray agreed. He expressed concerns about road access and traffic flow. County records indicate the project would generate an additional 43,000 vehicle trips per day.
“This area, it’s getting dense and it’s busy,” Ray said.
The planning commission makes a recommendation on the rezoning request before it goes to Horry County Council for approval.
If the rezoning is ultimately supported by county council, it would take at least a decade for the project to be built, said David Jordan, the county’s director of planning and zoning. He said the long timeline means the developer would like to preserve a variety of building options for the site, including an active adult community, apartments and carriage houses. Housing demands can change over time, and county officials said the developer wants to be able to respond to those shifts.
“It can be a very different community with a lot of different products,” David Jordan said.
Although public hearings on the project are scheduled for next week (Dec. 2) at the county government building in Conway, Dawson asked that they be delayed until after the community meeting on Dec. 8. At that meeting, tables will be set up and the developer’s engineers and county staff will be on hand to field questions about the proposal.
“Any public hearing on this prior to the community meeting is premature,” Dawson said. “We owe our citizens an opportunity to get to know this.”
It’s unclear if the hearings will be postponed.
Walter Warren with Thomas & Hutton, the engineering firm working on the project, said he would prefer to hold the public input session early so that he could gauge the community’s concerns ahead of the Dec. 8 meeting.
“We’ll kind of be going into the public meeting somewhat blind,” he said of following Dawson's plan.
Despite her questions, Dawson noted that she prefers developing the property under one master plan rather than taking a piecemeal approach.
Under the existing zoning, Warren said the developer could build nearly 4,500 units.
Along with a rezoning request, the developer has also offered a development agreement to the county. The document includes language stating that the county and the developer would work together on potentially locating part of the Southern Evacuation Lifeline (SELL) on the site. SELL is a road and bridge project that would connect the South Strand (U.S. 17 Bypass) with western Horry County.
“It’s not giving [the land] to us,” David Jordan, the planning director, said. “It’s not even reserving a price or anything, but it’s just there as a placeholder as we anticipate building that.”
Al Jordan, who has lived in Burgess for more than two decades, said he’s keeping an open mind and trying to learn more about the project. He shares the concerns about traffic and school capacity, but he said expecting development here to suddenly halt is unrealistic. He’s already seen angry posts about the proposal on social media.
“Maybe they have a right to be mad, but you get the feeling sometimes that they’re thinking, ‘I don’t want any more building,’” he said. “And maybe I agree with that, but that’s not the issue on the table. We can’t say we aren’t going to have any more buildings. It’s the old story: Pull up the drawbridge. I’ve been here for two years. … That’s not the way it works.”
He hopes the developer will take feedback from the community and allow residents’ concerns to help shape the project.
“I want to give folks the chance,” he said. “And I hope they want to learn about what it is, really.”