Lately, the Sales Executives at The Trembley Group Real Estate have been fielding questions from residents and from folks interested in becoming residents of Carolina Forest in Myrtle Beach. The development was created when International Paper and Horry County signed the Carolina Forest development agreement in 1997. The development agreement expired after twenty years on December 9. Folks with an interest in the property want to know what the expiration means and today’s blog will try to answer their questions.
Carolina Forest is one of Myrtle Beach’s real estate success stories. The real estate development is massive by Myrtle Beach standards. Carolina Forest is a 9,000 acre (11 square miles) master planned development off US 501, halfway between Myrtle Beach’s miles of sandy beaches and historic Conway, the seat of Horry County. The development offers communities and homes to fit just about any lifestyle, from maintenance-free condominiums to upscale neighborhoods with custom-built homes.
The Carolina Forest neighborhoods are particularly in demand by families because of their excellent, award-winning schools and their proximity to the Grand Strand’s beaches and oceanfront communities and all the shopping, dining, and entertainment they offer.
The development agreement to build Carolina Forest was crafted 20 years ago and expired in December. While the Myrtle Beach bedroom community has grown to maturity, there is still room for newcomers and additional growth. The construction of 20,683 residential units was approved in the original plan, and after two decades it is still 3,757 short of that goal, according to David Schwerd, the deputy director for Horry County Planning and Zoning. According to U.S. Census figures, the population increased from 3,400 in 2000 to about 33,000 today. He said in 2018 there is still room for significant residential growth and light commercial use, too.
“The majority of the county wasn’t zoned when this development agreement was done,” said Schwerd. “Most of our developments are not large enough to be able to justify a single school, let alone being able to set aside an area for three or four schools or EMS station.” The plan also set aside land for recreation and for churches.
The future for Carolina Forest looks brighter than ever.
The originally planned development documents set aside land for six golf courses. And the one thing you don’t see now in Carolina Forest? Golf courses. “It probably would have surprised me on the front end of it,” says Horry County Councilwoman Liz Gilland. “But, as time progressed and golf courses began to sell, it didn’t surprise me at all.”
“The original idea was that it would be a walkable community, that there would be a lot of golf courses,” Schwerd said. “Instead of built around lakes, they would be built around golf courses that had lakes. The golf course industry had a downturn in the early 2000’s when the development was really starting to occur in Carolina Forest, so there was no demand for additional golf courses within the community.”
There are also no hotel rooms in the area controlled by the development agreement. “Originally it was 2,600 hotel rooms allotted for that, and we don’t have any within the development agreement,” Schwerd said, “and we haven’t seen any plans for any within the development agreement.”
The original plan also allowed for more than two million square feet of commercial use, but only 775,000 has been developed.
The development plan doesn’t come without issues that some say need a resolution.
“Carolina Forest has so much potential,” said Carole vanSickler, the president of the Carolina Forest Civic Association. “It’s changing a lot. We keep adding homes but we’re not catching up with our roadways.” The traffic on Carolina Forest Boulevard remains a problem area for people who live there.
Gilland said International Paper didn’t want to pay for a four-lane road. “We tried to have them build a four-lane road out here,” Gilland said. “Obviously, anyone can tell you it needed to be four-lane from day one, but IP absolutely said that they would not. That was almost the last hitching point, but the alternative at the time since they refused was to not have an agreement.”
The issues don’t stop with the main thoroughfare for Gilland. “The other thing may have been, and I didn’t realize at the time, having a large development with all your commercial at either end is not the best thing to do,” she said. “Again, that was a rookie mistake by me. I didn’t know to ask for that. I didn’t know to make an objection there, but it seems like somebody in planning should have.”
“That actually is some of the reason you have so much traffic at both ends is there’s no outlet in the middle,” Schwerd said. “I think, at the most recent estimate, it was a little over $40 million to build the interchange, but it is in the long-range transportation plan.”
“As far as land use goes, there won’t be a significant change,” Schwerd said. “In fact, when it expires, the regulations will be significantly increased.” He said things like landscaping rules and signage requirements are more restrictive now than they were two decades ago. “We pretty much know what will happen,” he said.
With new residential and commercial areas will come updated zoning rules and regulations. Under the Carolina Forest development agreement, zoning rules were frozen in place for two decades. “It doesn’t eliminate any restrictions, in fact, it will allow the county to enforce our more current standards,” said David Schwerd of the Carolina Forest development agreement. The zoning ordinance has been updated five times since the passage of the Carolina Forest plan but for the 11 square mile development, the county was required to limit its zoning enforcement to the regulations from 20 years ago. According to Schwerd, the expiration of the Carolina
Forest land use plan will allow for enforcement of more modern land use regulation.
The biggest rule change will affect access management, meaning new housing developments will be required to have more than one entrance, Schwerd said. “If you look at Southgate, they only have one access for all those lots, that wouldn’t be allowed under today’s standards,” Schwerd said, “They would have to have two access points, and plantation Lakes would have to have two permanent access points.”
The major complaint among residents is that new road construction has not kept up with the population growth. According to U.S. Census figures, the population increased from 3,400 in 2000 to about 33,000 today.
The RIDE III project to widen Carolina Forest Boulevard breaks ground in about a year and that will eventually ease congestion. Additionally, the original development agreement donated land for the construction of the Carolina Bay Parkway (S.C. 31) and plans for the construction of the final extension of the parkway are underway.
Both the widening of Carolina Forest Boulevard and the Carolina Bay Parkway extension will ease traffic congestion for Carolina Forest residents. There is also a long-range for an interchange near the midpoint of Carolina Forest Boulevard but that is part of the long-term transportation plan.
Until then, Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus says the council will take a closer look at rezoning requests for new residential areas surrounding the official Carolina Forest development zone.
The original Carolina Forest master development plan gave folks some assurance that the area would develop in a certain way with certain minimum standards. The plan guaranteed storm drain systems, bike lanes, and an overall focus toward growing Carolina Forest. The expiration of the original development plan will allow the county to implement and enforce the county’s modern and more restrictive zoning regulations.
“Carolina Forest has so much potential,” according to Carole vanSickler, the president of the Carolina Forest Civic Association. The expiration of the Carolina Forest development plan will give residents an opportunity to address some of the issues and future plans for the area to let it realize its full potential.
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