100517 Land use: Exponent of New Urbanism will lead growth forum
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John Sands started the forums after years of listening to complaints about growth.

Land use: Exponent of New Urbanism will lead growth forum

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

There will be maps and markers on the tables. “People can sit there and argue with each other,” said John Sands, organizer of the series of forums that give Waccamaw Neck residents a chance to sketch the area’s future land-use plan.

The third of the forums is Oct. 12. It is the last one planned. “This is the culmination of the process,” Sands said. The results will be forwarded to Georgetown County officials who are preparing for the mandated 10-year update to the comprehensive plan required of all local governments by state law. Land use is one of eight elements in the plan.

“Ordinarily we would have had the land-use plan already done,” said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director. But the county contracted with Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments to help with an inventory of existing uses. That will be complete by the end of the year.

Citizen committees will be convened around the county to recommend changes in future land uses to the Planning Commission. That process will start early in 2018, Johnson said.

And that is the process Sands hopes his forums can help refine. Next week’s session will be conducted by Victor Dover, the principal in the Florida-based planning firm Dover, Kohl & Partners. Getting the head of the 14-member firm was only a matter of money, he said. The session is being funded through the Bunnelle Foundation, where Sands’ wife is the executive director, and an anonymous donor.

“It’s a very big deal,” County Council Member Steve Goggans said. “They plan stuff all over the world.” In South Carolina, the firm has done work in Bluffton, Beaufort and Charleston. They are proponents of “new urbanism,” in which communities have a mix of uses in a compact, walkable space. “They’ve studied case after case. They know what works and what doesn’t work,” Goggans said.

People who didn’t attend the previous forums in February and August can still attend next week’s session. It will be held at the Waccamaw Library from 7 to 9 p.m. Dover will talk about the issues raised at the earlier forums and poll the audience to make sure he’s on track, Sands said. “The meat in the coconut” will be the work with the maps, he added.

Small groups will come up with their vision for the future and report back to the group at the end. Dover Kohl will develop renderings from the groups’ ideas.

“This evening is not going to result in stone tablets,” Sands said. “It’s going to result in some guidance for county government.”

Goggans said the citizen-driven effort will have more impact than one led by county officials. “It is sometimes tough for politicians to get this kind of thing going,” he said.

The information from Dover Kohl will become part of the land-use update for Waccamaw Neck, Johnson said. “The interesting thing on the Neck is going to be the whole issue of density,” he added. “We haven’t had a good example, but cluster housing would allow higher density in exchange for more open space, confirmed open space.”

Although the idea has been talked about before, there was always concern that open space on a the first phase of a development plan wouldn’t remain open in future phases, he said.

“I think their approach is not going to be overly specific,” Goggans said of Dover Kohl. “We aren’t going to walk away with a town plan, but it will result in a plan we can embrace.”

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