020818 Murrells Inlet: Politics raises profile of condo project
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About 100 people attended a meeting to hear about the plan for 58 condos on 5 acres.

Murrells Inlet: Politics raises profile of condo project

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Debate over a plan to build 60 condos in Murrells Inlet has a political twist as a candidate for Georgetown County Council says it shows the incumbent is out of touch and the incumbent counters that his challenger is uninformed.

But inlet residents who filled the community center for a meeting about the project this week said their concern is that growth continues to change character of the community. “I was born and raised in Murrells Inlet and this is not what Murrells Inlet is,” said Chuck Harrison.

The condos are planned for 5 acres between Murrells Inlet Road and Bypass 17 that was sold last month by the Belin Trust to a Myrtle Beach real estate firm. Bentley Thompson, owner of Native Homes, has submitted plans for 60 condos in four buildings and two single-family lots on the property. It is up for review next week by the Planning Commission. The planning staff has recommended that the commission defer action until the developer confirms that he has obtained an easement to provide access to the highway over a private street.

The property was once Georgetown County’s designated spoils site for inlet dredging projects.

The property is zoned “general residential” which allows multi-family development. The county sent out notices of the project last week to neighboring property owners. Georgetown County requires review of the project by the commission and County Council to show that it meets the development regulations.

“There has been a lot of misinformation put out,” County Council Member John Thomas said. “Bill Hills has gone to great effort to stir up people’s fears and anxieties.”

Hills is running for the Council District 1 seat Thomas now holds. He said the Murrells Inlet area, where he lives, needs better representation. Thomas lives in North Litchfield. “He’s willing to lay down on high-density zoning projects,” Hills said.

There is concern that the project will increase traffic on Murrells Inlet Road, which is already used by locals to avoid traffic on Bypass 17. Thomas said much of that concern was prompted by Hills, who told people the project would have access to Murrells Inlet Road. “He’s doing a disservice to his neighbors,” Thomas said.

The plan submitted by Native Homes shows access to the traffic signal on Bypass 17 at Riverwood Drive. The portion of the tract on Murrells Inlet Road is shown as open space with a gravel access road to a sewer pump station.

To reach Bypass 17, traffic from the condos will have to use a private street, Bandage Court, which also runs behind a collection of medical offices along the highway. “They are working right now to show us they have permission to use the road,” Boyd Johnson, the county planning director, said before the meeting.

The road is owned by Dr. Gerald Tiller.

Hills told Johnson the road is owned by Tidelands Health. “I was told by a very reliable source with the hospital that it will in no way consider granting access through their property for an apartment complex,” Hills said. He believes the project will have to get access from Murrells Inlet Road. “John Thomas has said there will be no access to Murrells Inlet Road,” Hills said.

“The developer has no desire to get back near that road. He was saying that even before the public was aware there was a project,” Johnson said. “It’s ideal to have a project with access to a traffic light.” And he added that the multi-family units will be sold as condos with a provision in the deed limiting rentals to no less than six months.

Even without access to Murrells Inlet Road, residents said the condos are too much for the village, even if they are allowed under current zoning.

“We moved down here to get away from the high-rises,” said Trish Parris. “We like the feel of the inlet. This is not compatible, at least not with this side of [Bypass] 17.”

“If we wanted to live in Myrtle Beach, we’d move there,” another resident said.

The Planning Commission was due to review the project Feb. 15. Some residents asked Johnson for more time to gather information before that meeting and noted there are still questions that haven’t been answered. He said before the meeting it was possible the plan could be deferred if the developer is not able to provide additional information.

Thomas said after the meeting that if the project was still on the commission’s agenda next week he would ask members to defer their review.

Emily Topper contributed to this story.

Correction: This story has been corrected from the print version, which incorrectly attributed Chuck Harrison’s comment to Tommy Ruffin.

Update: This story was updated to reflect the planning staff recommendation and a revised count of the units, which is now 62.

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