The North Myrtle Beach Planning Commission and a citizen audience got their first look Thursday at new plans for the annexation and development of the 167-acre Possum Trot golf course.
The new design was introduced after the last set of plans was met with near unanimous criticism from commissioners and residents over density, traffic, access and a planned apartment building.
The new plans from Thomas and Hutton, shown for the first time during a special workshop, call for reducing the residential density by over 200 units from the previously proposed 716 units down to 512.
A big part of that comes from the elimination of the planned apartment complex, which under the old plans would have contributed 264 of the dwelling units.
“I think the new plan is a step in the right direction,” said planning commission Chairman Harvey Eisner. “I’m still concerned about in and out. I don’t know how they can solve that. But I think that they’ve at least reduced it by 200 dwellings and that to me is a step in the right direction.”
Eisner’s concerns about traffic were echoed multiple times by residents in the audience at the workshop.
New plans call for three access points: one from Possum Trot Road and two from Tom E Chestnut Road. In the past, Eisner said he was concerned that residents would loop around Cenith Drive - which turns into Tom E Chestnut Road and then Anne Street – in order to get around traffic.
Residents are worried that even with the reduction in residential units, the development will still cause heavy traffic and backups on Possum Trot Road.
The intersections on Highway 17 have South Carolina Department of Transportation sensors regulating the lights to match traffic density, said North Myrtle Beach Public Works Director Kevin Blayton. But right now, those sensors are set up to make sure Highway 17 traffic is flowing. Side streets currently don’t have those sensors.
“That does tend to cause the side streets to back up for a longer distance,” Blayton said. “So the way you handle that is you put in some additional traffic detection devices that allow you to detect when traffic at the intersection is backed up more than six, eight, 10, 12 cars. When they hit that traffic detection device, it would trigger the green time on the side street to be longer to allow that longer traffic cue to move out into Highway 17.”
The new residential density of 512 does not include the assisted living facility, which allows for a maximum of 100 beds, although Walter Warren with Thomas and Hutton said it would likely hold 75 or 80 beds.
Residents at the last meeting felt misled when the assisted living facility wasn’t included in the residential density, but that may be due in part to state law.
The development is a planned development district, or PDD. State law requires PDDs to have both residential and commercial property, according to Planning Director James Wood. But the assisted living is the commercial side of the development, and it isn’t included in the residential density.
While the people in assisted living facilities don’t tend to do a lot of driving, their visitors and the workers have to commute, causing some increase in traffic. But Warren said the assisted living would constitute only about 4 or 5 percent of the traffic increase.
Blayton said he didn’t have a ballpark number for the traffic increase from the new development, but he said the city has the traffic study with those numbers.
The proposal does call for widening Possum Trot road for one block up to the Highway 17 intersection and extending the Highway 17 left turn lane to add more stacking space, Blayton said.
Another change in the plans is open space. The last design called for around 30 percent open space. The new plan, according to Warren, allows for between 40 and 50 percent open space.
Eisner was happy about the extra room, but said he wants to see it broken down by open space over land versus open space over water.
“I know that they’re counting the lakes as open space,” Eisner said. “And it is open space. But I’d like to see land open space.”
Another possible issue for Eisner is lot size: he doesn’t want the houses too close together, but hasn’t been able to review the plans closely enough to determine the spacing.
Still, he said, the new plan is an improvement.
“I’m not 100 percent convinced yet,” Eisner said, “but at least it’s a lot better.”