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Litchfield: Owners vote on funding for resort renovations

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Property owners in more than 30 Litchfield communities are voting this month on a $4.5 million plan to renovate facilities within Litchfield by the Sea.

The project is tied to a redevelopment of the Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort that would add 100 condominium units and replace the existing commercial buildings with new shops, offices and restaurants.

In addition to being asked to approve a special assessment to fund the Litchfield by the Sea improvements, property owners in the neighborhoods that comprise the Litchfield by the Sea Community Association are being asked to add the 12.7 acre resort complex to their organization.

Myrtle Beach National, which owns the resort, will provide $1.5 million to the community association and amend an agreement that allows the company and its customers access to the beach.

Bill Wilson, president of the community association, declined to comment about the project, citing opposition from some members. Henry Jobe, the past president, said he didn’t want to comment without authorization from the board.

The renovation project and Myrtle Beach National’s plans are included in information provided to community association members along with notice of a special meeting June 19 to vote on the assessment.

The $1.5 million payment by Myrtle Beach National will cover the cost of renovations to the Litchfield by the Sea Beach Club, which include doubling the size of the oceanfront deck and adding showers and restrooms.

The remaining $3 million will fund road and sidewalk improvements, landscaping, signs and a new entrance at Litchfield by the Sea. Development began there in 1978, and was eventually finished in phases after the principal developer, the Litchfield Co., went into bankruptcy in the early 1990s.

The renovations will help maintain values in the community, said Royce King, a property owner and president of Litchfield Co. Real Estate.

“This is not that uncommon for any 30-year-old community,” he said. “Once you get to build-out, different needs arise.”

People who own property behind the gate at Litchfield by the Sea will pay $2,088 over two years if the assessment is approved. So will owners in the River Club, west of Highway 17. Residents there who oppose the project also declined to comment on the record, saying they didn’t want to anger the association board.

The River Club was developed in the early 1980s, and included in the Litchfield by the Sea Community Association to allow beach access.

Residents in the Willbrook communities, which are also part of the community association, will pay $728 over the two years ($520 for owners of vacant lots).

“You have to look at it from two different sides of the highway,” said Bob Plowden, president of The Reserve Property Owners Association and a former member of the Litchfield by the Sea Community Association board.

The renovation is the largest undertaking at Litchfield by the Sea since Hurricane Hugo prompted a scramble to rebuild the dunes, Plowden said.

“The board’s been working on it for a considerable period of time, and it’s being sprung on people at the last minute,” he said.

He understands the concern of property owners about the cost of the assessment, but also acknowledges the board’s position that it can get the work done for a better price because of the slow economy.

Plowden has attended four presentations in recent weeks on the project. “They’ve done all they can to advertise and explain it,” he said, but added, “there are some pretty strongly-held feelings.”

Georgetown County has not seen plans for the Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort condos or commercial project, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

“I’m a little surprised we haven’t heard from them,” he said.

Information provided to community association members says the existing resort offices and conference facilities will be replaced with a “town center,” that is being called the Litchfield by the Sea Market Village.

If the resort is brought into the community association, the association will have architectural review of the project.

The company says the project will be the new “front door” to Litchfield by the Sea, and it will seek county approval for the project once the design is approved by the community association.

“I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot, especially from the people in Willbrook, about the traffic,” Johnson said.

Votes are assigned to association members in relation to their annual assessments, with those who own behind the gate at Litchfield by the Sea and in River Club getting five votes for each improved property. Homeowners in the Willbrook communities get two votes.

Of the more than 9,700 votes to be cast, about 30 percent are already in. It will take a three-fourths majority to add the resort to the community association. A two-thirds majority is needed to adopt the special assessment.

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