Groups say draft update to comprehensive plan ignores their input – Coastal Observer


Groups say draft update to comprehensive plan ignores their input

Groups that a suing the county say the future land use maps will increase density.

Citizens groups say they don’t see much citizen input in a draft of the updated Georgetown County land use plan.

A series of speakers at a forum last week told county planners that they fear the update is less restrictive than the current land use plan, which is one of the elements of the comprehensive plan that local governments are mandated by state law to adopt and maintain.

“Instead of heeding citizen input, this draft does the opposite,” said Cindy Person, attorney for Keep It Green Advocacy, which is representing four groups in lawsuits challenging county land use decisions.

The county adopted the current land use element in 2007. It began work in 2018 on the 10-year update. After delays during the pandemic, it halted the process in 2022. Last year, it hired a Columbia firm, Boudreaux, to lead the process. A series of meetings were held around the county last year to get input.

“In my history with the county, this has been our largest public input effort for any plan,” said Holly Richardson, the county planning director.

By law, local governments must adopt the land use plan – which includes maps of future land uses – before they implement zoning. Georgetown County first adopted zoning in the 1970s. The lawsuits brought by Keep It Green Advocacy have hinged on the mismatch between the zoning and the future land use maps that allowed development to proceed. Those suits were dismissed in Circuit Court and are now before the state Court of Appeals.

County Council agreed informally last month to include $250,000 in the fiscal 2025 budget to rewrite its zoning and development regulations after the land use element is adopted.

Ryan Bland, a senior planner with Boudreaux, said the draft was compiled “knowing that the cornerstone of that effort would be to revise the regulatory framework: the zoning and all that goes along with it.”

The consultants even noted the inconsistencies that led to litigation.

But members of the citizens groups Keep It Green and Preserve Murrells Inlet said the draft land use update lacks the firm language that’s needed to limit future development on Waccamaw Neck. It could even open the door to increased residential density.

“The future land use element reads more like a mild suggestion,” said Kary Saleeby, a Heritage Plantation resident. “The wording, in my view, is broad and non-specific, exactly what developers and builders appreciate.”

The future land use maps in the draft use “place types”  instead of broad categories of residential, commercial and industrial uses. The place types are rural, corridors and gateways, and neighborhoods. Each has different subcategories that show different uses. The goal is to define the existing character of communities throughout the county and ensure that future development is compatible, the consultants have said.

“Instead of honoring the historic district of Murrells Inlet, high density is slated in an area overrun by tourism and new development,” said Sandra Bundy, who served on the commission when the update began.

She also pointed out that while the plan breaks the county down into five different areas, it is only the southern section along the Santee River that notes the impact of sea level rise.

“This completely ignores the fact that all areas of the county will be impacted by more rain, more intense storms and flooding and sea level rise,” Bundy said.

Duane Draper, who chairs Keep It Green, said the draft contains “a glaring hole” by failing to consider a stormwater master plan for the Waccamaw Neck completed last year. It identified 51 drainage basins and four “special protection areas.”

One of those areas, Parkersville, is currently facing development pressure, he noted.

“Parkersville is the poster child of this whole discussion,” Draper said. “Stormwater is directly tied to density.”

Elaine Cooper of Pawleys Island said the draft land use plan references the natural resources plan that the County Council tabled after citizens objected to changes that county staff made to the version approved by the Planning Commission.  She questioned how land use goals could be made without goals for natural resources.

Person said afterward that she saw a similarity in the way the draft land use plan’s language was tempered and the way the natural resources plan was altered.

“The plan is full of ‘promote,’ ‘encourage,’ ‘suggest’ as opposed to more mandatory language,” she said. “They did the same thing to the natural resources element.”

Speakers also called for the restoration of sections of the current land use plan that identify the need to limit the number of residential units built in the Pawleys Island-Litchfield area and use “net density” when assessing residential development.

The draft plan proposes using “gross density,” which is the size of the entire parcel. Net density counts the buildable area, but not streets, wetlands and other features.

“The Boudreaux report clearly misrepresents the input received from the public,” said Gary Weinreich, a member of Preserve Murrells Inlet. “It recommends outcomes that county officials are seeking and not what residents of the Waccamaw Neck made very clear during their input sessions.”

Parts of the draft plan drew support along with questions.

Becky Ryon, north coast director of the Coastal Conservation League, liked its call for “low-impact development” that reduces stormwater and “conservation subdivisions” that retain open space. Those fit with a 2022 county land use survey that found 96 percent of respondents supported preserving natural resources.

Monica Whelan, an attorney with the S.C. Environmental Law Project, asked that the draft include specific language that would let the county create a “wetland protection and buffer ordinance.”

“This would be a great place to include mention of a green sales tax. This will create funding for open space initiatives and make that more of a possibility,” she added.

The draft plan calls for future development to be tied to existing infrastructure, which Madison Cooper, vice president of government affairs for the Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors, said makes sense.

But she also questioned what would happen if the goals of the Georgetown County Water and Sewer District, a state special-purpose district, didn’t mesh with the county’s goals.

The draft also addresses the need for affordable housing and suggests ways the county can create partnerships and provide incentives – such as density bonuses – to help achieve that.

Ryon said she was concerned that affordable housing might be limited to rural areas with cheap land that would be far from jobs and generate traffic and “sprawl.”

Whelan suggested that the elements for determining whether a site was suitable for affordable housing should include environmental constraints.

Person said her clients were skeptical of the proposals.

“They seem to be an incentive to further increase density without resulting in truly affordable or workforce housing options,” she said.

Council Member Bob Anderson attended the forum. He said the comments reflected what he has heard from constituents in District 2, where he is seeking re-election.

“The one thing they’re asking for is slowing development over here on the Neck,” he said. “I was disappointed.”

Anderson also noted that the idea of rewriting the zoning and development regulations could also lead to less restrictions even though it has been pitched as a way to make them conform to the land use plan.

“It could come out worse,” he said.

Anderson was unsure whether the draft could be salvaged.

Person posed that question to her clients this week.

“It is probably not salvageable,” she said. “No one is optimistic that the attitude is going to change that gives the county a desire to revise the plan.”



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