All the residents of Ridgewood West who spoke to the Conway Planning Commission Thursday night agreed on one thing – they don’t want what could be one of Conway’s largest development ever snuggling up to their peaceful, rural neighborhood.
In a tearful plea at the first presentation of the project to the city’s planning commission members, Ridgewood West resident Pat McCracken said, “I can’t understand why you let this happen to my neighborhood.”
If she had wanted to live in a very dense and active area like The Market Common, she said, she would have bought there.
In regard to Ridgewood West, she said, “It’s beautiful out there. You’re going to ruin it.”
Her concern and that of others in the neighborhood has been sparked by a proposed development of an 828-acre parcel on both sides of Collins Jollie Road.
The property was brought into the conway city limits with an R-1 zoning designation, but now the owners, Collins Jolly Holding Inc., want to rezone 673.25 acres into a planned development that will allow multi-family, single-family and commercial areas.
They plan to save the remainder of the 828 acres for people who want lot sizes of several acres or more.
The proposed plan, as it stands now, puts the number of residences at 1,983, about 230 to 250 more than the R-1 designation allows, but engineer Mike Wooten said the desired designation will allow developers much more flexibility in designing the new neighborhood.
He said lot sizes will drop from a required 7,500-square-feet to 6,000-square-feet, but they want to add a new city park and a commercial area so residents don’t have to jump into their cars and travel a long way to buy even the smallest things. He mentioned the possibility of a Dollar General-type store.
“It’s going to be developed,” Wooten said. “I want everybody to understand, it’s going to be developed.”
Sprawl, he said, is bad for the delivery of city services, including police and fire.
But the planned development will create more open space and amenities, including a storage area for recreational vehicles.
He said the developers have already hired Stantec to complete a traffic study and whatever their consultants tell them to do, they’ll do.
He expects build-out of the community to take about 20 years and doesn’t expect any houses to be ready for sale for at least two years. The plan allows condominiums and apartments, and Wooten said sometime over the next 20 years there could be a need for them.
Still, Wooten doesn’t classify the project as high density, saying that 29 percent of the property is wetlands and they are looking at about 66 acres of lakes and ponds.
One new idea for this area that Wooten offered is to create what he called a municipal improvement district, similar to a special tax district. However, in this case because the city will set it up, it won’t have to follow state impact fee legislation.
His proposal is for every residence in the development to pay a $500 impact fee and to add 4 mills to every resident’s tax bill each year.
The impact fees should bring in $991,500 over 20 years. This money and the tax money can be used by the city for whatever purpose they choose, he said.
Planning director Mary Catherine Hyman said this project will require many additional city services, including at least one new fire station.
She said the enormity of the project also prompted her to bring it to the attention of the Horry County School District and Horry County Government, two groups she expects would also be impacted. She pointed out that Collins Jollie Road is a county road.
The group has promised to set aside two acres for a new fire station, but plans for a possible new station are still premature.
Wooten also wanted to calm the residents’ fears about stormwater, saying his firm is good at dealing with stormwater and the water runoff will be better after the development is in place than it is now.
He also acknowledged that many in the area are worried about traffic, but he said the project will address that challenge, too.
“I know people think that development caused the flooding, but the Good Lord caused the flooding,” he said referring to the Hurricane Florence flood.
He promised a meeting with the neighborhood before the project goes through.
“We have been very, very careful to avoid anything that would harm the adjoining neighborhood,” he said.
Ridgewood resident Dennis Crigler said there are some nice homes out there “and now they want to come in and build tiny little homes. … Basically, you’re giving everyone in that area two years to sell their property and get out of there.”
He also opined that there’s not enough infrastructure in the area to manage all those homes and the increased traffic.
Joe Griffin, also of Ridgewood, said his neighborhood is about to see their world turned upside down because all of the reasons they chose to live there are about to be taken away.
He said he just spent “a fortune” making a screen room and has been happy sitting out there enjoying the quiet.
“It would just be nice to keep that buffer,” he said.
He also asked that the park not be put too close to Ridgewood, adding that as a longtime law enforcement officer he knows what goes on in parks.
Margaret Bazer told the group that she doesn’t have the option of moving because she and her husband put everything they had into their property.
“I still believe that progress is a wonderful thing, but not at the expense of people and their comfort," she said. "This is a beautiful area and I love being there, I really do. … It’s quiet. It’s peaceful and we don’t have, thank goodness, a lot of crime there.”
Several residents said they are concerned their property values will drop and their taxes will increase. They insist they can’t afford to move.
Because this is such a big issue to review, city staff scheduled the planning commission to deal with it over two meetings. Its members will take it up again Sept. 5 at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall. The commission will then make a recommendation about the project to Conway City Council, whose members plan to hold two public hearings on it.
They will be Oct. 7 and Oct. 21 at 5:30 p.m. during the regularly scheduled council meetings. Hyman, the city planner, said a community meeting will be scheduled sometime between Aug. 1 and Oct. 7 and will be announced on the city’s Facebook page, its Access Channel and website.
“I completely understand where they’re coming from, but one thing I hope everybody can understand is it is already annexed as R-1 now,” Hyman said, adding that means the property can be developed into a residential community.
The requested zone will allow smaller lot sizes and a city park, and will require a perimeter landscape buffer that R-1 doesn’t require. The proposed plan also includes a storage area for recreational vehicles.
She said the city wants to work with the community and is already considering complaints about the location of the park.
Hyman said there is no city park anywhere near the growing area now, which makes it a good place for an additional park.
“We think it’s a good project,” he said. “It’s well thought out.”