Duplex plan’s final approval leaves foes mulling appeal
A citizens group this week renewed its threat of legal action after Georgetown County Council approved a zoning change to allow construction of 10 duplex units at the corner of Waverly and Kings River roads. The change from low density to medium density for the 3.3 acres is illegal because it violates the county’s comprehensive plan, members of Keep It Green say.
“There are parties with standing to appeal prepared to appeal,” Cindy Person, a leader of Keep It Green, said.
The property was zoned “residential half-acre,” which would have allowed up to six single-family homes. Investors have a contract to buy the site from Calvin Gilmore, who lives on the other side of the intersection. They plan to cluster the five duplex buildings in the center of the site and sought a zoning change to a “flexible design district.”
The land-use element of the comprehensive plan, a document state law requires local governments to adopt, showed the property as low density. That would allow up to two units an acre under the county zoning code. The duplex project will have a density of 3.27 units an acre.
Neighbors and members of Keep It Green opposed the project at two hearings by the Planning Commission and a series of County Council meetings. They say it will create problems with stormwater and traffic.
“You may say, ‘well, it’s just four more units. That’s not that much.’ That is a seductive argument, but it’s not valid because while four units may not seem like a lot in a vacuum, it’s two-thirds or 67 percent higher than our comprehensive plan allows. That is substantial,” Person said. “The cumulative effect is why the lower [Waccamaw] Neck has the problems it has.”
Bruce Watts, who designed the project, said keeping 87 trees along with a 40-foot vegetated buffer around the site will reduce stormwater runoff better than a single-family development. He said that the projected impact on traffic would be the same, 60 new trips a day, because engineering standards show multi-family units generate less traffic than single-family units.
“Our project speaks for itself. We are trying to do a quality project, keep it green and handle our stormwater,” Watts said.
John Evans, who lives nearby, told council that the same project could be done with six units. If the increase was approved, “how will you deny anybody a change in the future,” he asked.
Although members of Keep It Green have said they opposed multi-family development, Person said the group is not opposed to clustering the units. “The problem is that he’s asking for 10 residential units rather than six,” she said.
Because the zoning ordinance must follow the land-use plan, the council delayed its final vote on the “flexible design district” until it could approve an amendment to the future land-use plan. Person argued that the amendment also needed to comply with the goals of the plan, which include limiting the number of new residential units on the Waccamaw Neck.
“The amendment that’s requested to the future land-use map would be a violation of our comprehensive plan, and under state law you don’t have the authority to do that,” Person told the council. “That’s an appealable issue.”
Opponents appeared to be making gains with council members, particularly on concerns about flooding.
Council Chairman John Thomas had been the only member to vote against the zoning change, but when the amendment to the land-use plan came up for the second of three readings in November, he was joined by Ron Charlton and Everett Carolina. It passed 4-3.
This week, Council Member Steve Goggans recused himself. He represents District 6, where the project is located.
Goggan’s architecture firm created a master plan for all of Gilmore’s property in 2016. Although the plan showed duplexes on the site, he was not involved with the current plan. He said he checked with the county attorney and the state Ethics Commission before voting on the issue previously.
This week, Goggans said he was stepping aside to prevent the appearance of a conflict.
But Council Member Ron Charlton, who was opposed last month, changed his vote this time. Council Member Everett Carolina abstained. The vote to approve was 4-1 with Council Members Lillie Jean Johnson, Louis Morant and Raymond Newton joining Charlton in support.
“We were surprised and very disappointed,” Person said afterward. “We assumed after their votes last month that they understood the gravity of the issues.”