The greater Carolina Forest region will outpace all other areas of Horry County in population growth over the next 20 years, according to the latest projections from county planners.
That information was included in their presentation of IMAGINE 2040, the new comprehensive plan that received initial approval from Horry County Council on Monday. The document looks at the area’s surging growth — an additional 275,000 people are expected to be living in the county by 2040 — and strategies for managing that influx of residents.
“We don’t get to stop it,” said Steven Neeves, a Realtor who chaired the committee that worked with county staff on the IMAGINE 2040 plan. “We don’t get to build a wall. We don’t get to say, ‘Let’s put a filter on it and nobody from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey [or] Connecticut can come down here.’ This is the trend in our country. People are moving south.”
Nowhere in the county is growth more evident than in the unincorporated areas, which are expected to see 200,000 people move there over the next two decades. In the central area of the county — which includes Carolina Forest, Forestbrook and the S.C. 544 and S.C. 90 corridors — the population growth is expected to jump by more than 130 percent to 185,000 people, according to county records. More than 22,000 housing units have already been approved for this area.
“We all see it every day,” said Leigh Kane, a principal planner who was one of the main architects of IMAGINE 2040. “Carolina Forest is one of the largest growing areas.”
Much of the population increase will come from seniors, as 37 percent of the county’s population is 55 or older.
County officials said the comprehensive plan places a strong focus on how the community should develop, including building up instead of out and looking for ways to include commercial areas in neighborhoods.
The biggest mistake in the development of Carolina Forest had nothing to do with waiting to widen Carolina Forest Boulevard, Neeves said. It was placing the commercial areas at the ends of the community.
“If you live in Avalon right now and you need a loaf of bread, you’ve got to travel three miles one way or the other,” he said. “By the time you get home, your wife says, ‘Where is the milk?’ So you’re back on the same road going to get the milk. … What we have actually done in places in this county is we’ve legislated traffic. We’ve mandated that people use our roadways instead of working neighborhood commercial in front of these larger neighborhoods.”
The comprehensive plan calls for more interconnected roads to improve mobility and for setting aside industrial property to promote the diversification of the economy.
Planners stressed the county's growth options are constrained because the county is 38 percent wetlands and that property isn't suitable for development.
“We have to think about how we want to develop,” Kane said.
Concerns about flooding and rural preservation are also addressed in the document, although a late suggestion for changing the plan has sparked some concerns from environmentalists, who worry about creating a loophole for development to encroach on sensitive lands.
Under the proposed change, if the plan calls for an area to be scenic or conservation land, the property owner would be allowed to provide the county’s planning staff with more information about the site and potential design changes to mitigate a project’s impact.
However, county staff insist that’s a positive change.
“Those rezonings that will be in scenic and conservation will have even more scrutiny than all the other rezonings,” said David Schwerd, the county’s director of planning and zoning. “It just provides flexibility to the property owner to be able to address those concerns.”
Council members must vote in favor of the plan two more times before it is approved. A final vote and public hearing are expected on Sept. 3. As of Monday, most county officials seemed pleased.
“You guys have examined so many different possibilities and looked at things from so many different angles,” councilman Johnny Vaught said. “It’s just a magnificent plan to me.”