Battle over density looms with zoning change
Property off Highway 17 near Prince George took the first step toward higher density development, but not before the chairman of the Georgetown County Planning Commission pointed out to some of the project’s opponents that their community was only allowed to be built after a similar change to the county’s land-use plan.
Benjamin Goff wants to rezone 14.8 acres he owns between Waterford Road and The Colony development from “residential-half acre” to “residential-10,000 square feet.”
Charles Suggs, a member of the planning staff, said under the current zoning, Goff’s property could have about 24 lots. If rezoned, the number of lots could increase to about 40.
“Only by maximizing the population density on parcels available for development can the Planning Commission ensure the protection of existing conservation land and the combined creation of open spaces for public uses and health and welfare of the community,” Cynthia Murray, a real estate agent who represented Goff at a hearing last week, said. “We cannot have exclusivity and demand that an owner give up his rights on his property, especially if he is not intending on hurting anyone’s property situation.”
Six people spoke against the zoning change, including two from Keep It Green, a citizens group opposed to increasing residential density on the Waccamaw Neck, and two residents of The Colony, which borders Goff’s property on the south.
Heather Kinder, who called herself a member and “fierce supporter” of Keep It Green, said traffic is already clogging Highway 17.
“The applicant has provided no compelling reason to approve. What’s wrong with developing the 25 to 28 homes?” Kinder asked. “Where does it end? Will every available acre of land get rezoned in order to maximize profits?”
Jerome Smalls and Sheila Banks, who live near Goff’s property, talked about the dangers of trying to enter and exit Highway 17 in that area due to heavy traffic.
“I don’t want to have to worry that every time [traffic] increases that I might die just to get out of my driveway,” Banks said.
Murray said traffic is a problem for the state Department of Transportation, not Goff.
“I understand the growth that is happening. I understand that traffic will increase,” Murray said. “If you moved to the area expecting nothing to change, then you were Pollyanna about that. There’s going to be change whether you agree or not. The traffic is still going to be horrible.”
Phil Benincasa, president of The Colony’s homeowners association, said smaller lots will mean cheaper homes will be built on them, which will decrease the values of surrounding homes.
“We just want the best for everybody in Pawleys Island. We want to appreciate our property values and we want things to move forward,” Benincasa said. “We’re not opposed to development. We’re opposed to doubling or tripling the amount of people in the same amount of space.”
The county’s land-use plan was changed in 2013 from low density to medium density to allow the development of 49 lots at The Colony, the staff noted.
After the public comment period, commission chairman Elizabeth Krauss reminded people about the change to the land-use plan, “just for information.”
Commission member Marla Hamby, a member of Keep It Green, stated her opposition to the project before the commission voted.
“I appreciate that Mr. Goff can do with his property what it was zoned for when he bought it,“ Hamby said. “But I don’t personally feel he has the right to change the zoning, which will adversely affect four or five adjoining residential properties.”
She pointed out that Goff bought the land for $15,000 in 1999 and told Murray that Goff was going to make a “tidy profit.”
“I don’t think that should be a part of your decision,” Murray said.
Commission member Sandra Bundy also opposed the rezoning, and made a motion to deny Goff’s request.
“I just think that whoever zoned this property when the county zoned it, they got it right,” Bundy said.
Bundy’s motion failed 3-2.
Commission member Robert Davis then made a motion to approve Goff’s request, which passed 3-2. The recommendation now goes to County Council for final approval.
Commission vice chairman Johnny Weaver recused himself from the discussion and the vote because he works for the Litchfield Co., which owns the Lachicotte Co., where Murray works.
Weaver urged Hamby to recuse herself as weel because of her involvement with Keep It Green, and her outspoken opposition to the project.
Hamby declined, saying she was not on the Keep It Green board and she didn’t send anything out to people about her opposition to the project.
“I am on this board. I am appointed by my district County Council person,” Hamby said. “I am an individual. I am a taxpayer. I have rights and I will not recuse myself.”
The Planning Commission also recommended approval of a request to rezone four parcels off Highway 17 at North Litchfield from “general commercial” to “residential-10,000 square feet.”
Litchfield Landings was approved in 2003 as a 12-lot commercial subdivision.
Dan Stacy, attorney for the owner, Thomas Sargeant, said demand for commercial development has not materialized.
Houses are allowed in “general commercial” zones, but would have to be taller than other houses in the area because of the setback requirements, Stacy said, and six houses could be built on the four lots instead of four.
Keith Armstrong, president of the homeowners association at Waccamaw Trace, which abuts the property, said they support the rezoning.
“I personally don’t care if there is six or eight homes that are built there,” Armstrong said. “Any homes behind us is better than commercial in our opinion.”
Jack Johnston, who owns the Cyclopedia bike shop, owns two Litchfield Landing lots and built a commercial building on them.
He opposed the rezoning because the area was “general commercial” when he bought his lots.
“We think this is going to be a conflict with our premises and the comings and goings of traffic there in that immediate area,” Johnston said.
Weaver made a motion to approve the request, which passed 5-1.
“I think this is common sense to make it compatible with some of the residential already around there,” Weaver said.
Bundy voted no because she said there was a conflict with the intent of the “residential-10,000 square feet” zoning.
“I can’t see how we can rectify that by changing it and letting it happen over and over again,” she said.
Both rezoning requests now go to County Council for final approval.