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Development: Single-family project ready to start if county approves smaller lots

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Al Estee doesn’t really want a commercial building at the front of his 11 acres of residential property on Waverly Road. But he has to create a mix of uses in order to ask Georgetown County to create a “planned development” on the tract.

Waverly Crossing is the first project on Waccamaw Neck to seek a zoning change since the state Supreme Court set stricter limits on “planned developments.” It’s up for review by the Planning Commission next week.

The project was first approved as a townhouse development with 42 units. Estee wants to change that to 41 single-family lots ranging from 3,860 to 13,401 square feet. But under the current “general residential” zoning, all the lots have to be at least 6,000 square feet. Most of the lots Estee proposes are 35 feet wide. Current zoning requires at least 60 feet.

“The lots are narrow, but they’re deep,” Estee said.

The county once would have considered a request from Estee for a residential “planned development,” perhaps allowing smaller lots in exchange for increased control over how the property is developed. But earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled in a case out of Charleston County that state law requires a planned development to have a mix of uses.

So Estee took half an acre at Waverly Crossing and showed it as the site of a 3,500-square-foot office or retail building. “They said you had to have something,” Estee said. “That’s the tail-end of the project.”

Estee’s firm, Baycorp, is located in Mount Pleasant, but he has a house at North Litchfield. He’s aware that the commercial zoning could be more controversial than the residential project. “The problem is, it’s a double-edged sword,” he said. The public wants the protections that come with planned development guidelines, but can’t get those guarantees without a mix of uses the court says are needed for that sort of zoning.

The county planning staff hasn’t completed its report to the commission, “but it’s not going to be a good one,” said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

His concern is that while there is no increase in the number of dwellings by changing from townhouses to single-family homes, the new project shows 41 homes each with a driveway on Clearwater Drive, which leads from Waverly Road to the county Water and Sewer District office.

The smallest lot size allowed under current zoning is 5,000 square feet, and those require 50 feet of width, the planners note.

Estee developed St. Charles Place in Willbrook, which has 40-foot-wide lots. He said the smaller, narrower lots are essential to keep the prices in line with the market.

“People want single-family, not condos and townhouses,” Estee said. “We believe there is a market for single-family in the $169,000 to $189,000 range.”

If approved, he plans to have the first models under construction in January. The project will have story-and-a-half homes built over two-car garages, with design standards enforced through deed restrictions. It will have landscaping along the street and a “neo-traditional” style, he said.

“When you landscape properly, the streetscape looks exceptional,” Estee said.

Following the rules for “general residential” zoning would allow 26 to 28 lots that would end up in the $275,000 range. “I’m hoping I can convince the board that the 35 feet makes a difference,” he said.

As for the commercial portion, he said he’s willing to accept any restrictions on uses for that parcel. “We put it out there: You tell us the guidelines,” Estee said.

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