Gas station opponents hone arguments for hearing
Opponents of a gas station and convenience store on Highway 17 in Litchfield are gearing up for a hearing next month on a state stormwater permit for the project.
“This is laser-focused on May 1,” said Gary Friedman, a member of the homeowners association at Hidden Oaks, which has led the campaign against the Royal Farms store since it was first presented to them last fall.
The Maryland-based company has presented plans to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control for a 5,154-square-foot store with 16 gas pumps on the corner of Highway 17 and Ford Road. The 2.8-acre parcel includes almost an acre of wetlands and upland buffer that are protected by deed restrictions placed on the property under a 2013 agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers as “compensatory mitigation.”
DHEC will hold the hearing as part of its review of the stormwater permit required for construction and for the long-term management of stormwater on the site.
Hidden Oaks, a community of 24 duplexes, is west of the commercial tract. Residents there, along with neighbors, say the gas station will pose a threat to the environment, increase traffic problems and generally decrease the quality of life in the area.
The property is zoned “general commercial,” which allows gas stations, so staff will review the plans for compliance with Georgetown County’s ordinances and regulations. It won’t require a public hearing or approval from the Planning Commission or County Council.
So far opponents have collected over 3,400 signatures on a petition opposing the project, said Jackie Harris, president of the Hidden Oaks HOA. Their goal is 5,000.
“It pushes DHEC and the county,” she said.
They have also been sending emails to the Royal Farms CEO. They have received no response and the company has not responded to requests for comment on the Pawleys Island project or its expansion into South Carolina. The company currently operates 260 stores in six states and is expanding into North Carolina.
What the opponents are now looking for is data to support their arguments.
“What we’re trying to do now is substantiate those commentaries,” Friedman said. “We need a variety of expertise.”
They also hope to make their case to the state Department of Transportation and the county Public Works Department on road issues.
They have talked with the fire marshal at Midway Fire and Rescue about his review for compliance with the international fire code.
“There are certain laws and regulations that won’t allow that,” Friedman said of the gas station. “But we have to prove that.”
Opponents filled the Waccamaw Library auditorium Saturday for a meeting to discuss their plans. Several people volunteered to help the organizers from Hidden Oak find the experts they need.
The group also planned to consult with Community and Environmental Defense Services, a Maryland-based firm, that specializes in development issues.
The company’s strategy aligns with what opponents of the Royal Farms project have said from the start: they want to convince Royal Farms to look elsewhere.
“We hope what we’re proving to them is that their return on investment is much different than they thought,” Friedman said. “There is going to come a time when Royal Farms says this is getting out of hand.”
The DHEC hearing will be held May 1 at the Waccamaw Library. Agency staff will provide information about the project and their role in the permitting process starting at 6 p.m.
The formal hearing will start at 7 p.m. The agency may limit the length and number of oral statements, but it will accept written comments online through May 16.