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Politics: Council candidates can’t find exit from median

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Bob Anderson and Steve Goggans, candidates for the Republican nomination to Georgetown County Council’s District 6 seat, told a standing-room-only crowd at the monthly meeting of the Waccamaw Neck Republican Club this week they agree on developing the Georgetown port, extending Carolina Bays Parkway via a new bridge over the Waccamaw River to Highway 701 and shifting the tax burden off homeowners on the Waccamaw Neck through education and economic development.

The elephant in the room proved to be the proposed median plan for Highway 17 in Pawleys Island that Goggans opposed and Anderson favored.

Goggans was head of Don’t Strip the Neck, a group that formed in opposition to the first phase of a raised median that would introduce 17 U-turns and two stoplights between Waverly Road and Baskervill Drive and eliminate the center left-turn lane. The group asked Anderson and other members of Georgetown County Council to consider its alternative traffic plan. Council members said they didn’t have the authority to make changes in the plan developed by the state Department of Transportation. Goggans said he had a letter from state Sen. Ray Cleary stating the county could change the median plan.

“The most disturbing and unfortunate part of that experience,” Goggans said while presenting information about his background and qualifications, “was that on many occasions we felt like we weren’t listened to. Despite presenting lots of ideas, those seemed to be shunned and the doors seemed to be closed in terms of acceptance.”

Howard Ward, a member of Pawleys Island Town Council, said he remembered two public meetings on the future of Highway 17. The choices, he said, were a six-lane highway or a median. “The general public all understood and did not want six lanes,” Ward said. “Commercial real estate people said it will ruin their business. County Council has been beaten up for not responding. They don’t have a player in the game. We are a small county. We don’t have a say-so. The public made the decision with the state highway department. I think it’s totally unfair for you to slant things that they did not respond.”

He asked Goggans to produce the letter stating County Council could change the median.

Goggans said Ward was “inaccurate and a little misinformed.” Highway documents described a number of different ways to redesign Highway 17 without being specific, he said. “The word U-turn was mentioned one time in public hearings,” Goggans said. “What I would submit is there are alternatives out there that would be perfectly viable for this community if implemented.”

Mike Hirsch, a resident of The Reserve, asked Anderson why he supported the concrete median in the face of overwhelming opposition.

“I don’t know of any overwhelming opposition,” Anderson said. “I received hate mail from folks who didn’t want the median, but I also received e-mails from folks saying thanks for watching out for me.” Anderson said there would be some negative economic impact from the median. “I don’t think anybody will know until it’s finished,” he said. “What I do know is that I drive that road every day, and I’ve had some close calls myself. I know there’s a safety issue with 40,000-plus cars coming through.”

Anderson said he and County Council Member Jerry Oakley arranged a meeting with state Rep. Steven Goldfinch, Highway Commission member Mike Wooten, Grand Strand Area Transportation Study representative Mark Hoeweler, DOT program manager Leah Quattlebaum and Stantec traffic engineer Rick Day along with Don’t Strip the Neck representatives Goggans, David Gundling, Mindy McVay Heilmann and their traffic engineer Eric Trippi of the Mount Pleasant office of the California design firm Iteris.

“We asked everybody to bring their plans to the table,” Anderson said, “We had all the design people. What I was expecting you all to do was to spread your plan out on the table. I didn’t see a plan. All I heard about that day was the fact you couldn’t get all the crash data and you wanted to talk about an economic impact study. As a citizen I didn’t need to see any crash data. I drive it every day. As for an economic impact study, sure, there will be some impact. I just don’t know what that’s going to be.”

Another point of contention between the candidates was a decision by the Waccamaw Neck Architectural Board of Review to allow Sunbelt Ventures a variance for a roof design for a Publix grocery store. Goggans was chairman of the board that was disbanded by County Council after its decision.

“You’ve got to have rules,” Anderson said in his introductory remarks. “If you don’t like the rules, you change them. Don’t go off and do something different. Rules are for a level playing field, like the Waccamaw Neck Commercial Corridor Overlay Zone.”

Jim Hart of Pawleys Island asked Goggans about the variance during a question-and-answer session. “When this project first came to us, Pawleys Plaza was a derelict shopping center,” Goggans said. The redevelopment project depended on the variance, he said. Goggans said the roof slope was “an arcane detail” but the balance of the complex met the criteria. If the developer chose not to invest as much as 50 percent of the buildings’ worth in the project he would not have to meet the appearance guidelines. “We decided to issue that variance,” he said. “I stand by the variance.”

Anderson said he called the developer of the Pawleys Market with Lowes Foods and apologized for the Publix roof variance. “It cost him an extra $250,000 to $300,000,” Anderson said. “That’s what I was talking about the level playing field.”

Goggans said he had been preparing to enter the race for County Council for 30 years. He grew up in Aiken and graduated from Clemson with a degree in architecture in 1976. He accepted a job in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1979 and obtained a master’s degree in community and regional planning while he was there. “That degree,” he said “has informed me in all things I have done in terms of community service.” Goggans returned to Pawleys Island in 1984 as head of the Litchfield Company’s architectural and engineering division and worked on the Willbrook “planned development” from the river to the ocean. That remains, he said, the largest project approved and implemented in Georgetown County history. In 1987 he formed SGA Architects and in 1996, Paragon Custom Construction.

“My career has tracked the growth and change on Pawleys Island,” Goggans said. “Being a successful architect and planner of big projects requires me to solve problems but also means forming consensus.”

Goggans said he wrote the guidelines for the Waccamaw Neck Commercial Corridor Overlay District as a member of the first architectural board of review. “The reason most of us are here is because of the very great quality this community has,” he said. “If we degrade, erode or compromise the quality of the local environment, be it natural or the built environment, we are going to see an erosion of property values, quality of tourism and the very things that drew us here in the first place. I want to alert citizens to change, and there will certainly be change. Above all, I want to listen.”

Anderson said he has tried to take a hands-on approach in areas where he has expertise from his manufacturing career. “We’ve dealt with a wide range of issues over the past four years,” he said, “some uplifting and some break your heart. The latest comes to mind is our economic development director, Wayne Gregory. There’s a young man 36 years old, had a great resume, graduated from Furman University and has ruined his whole life.” Gregory is accused of stealing $100,000 from the county during his tenure.

Anderson said the safety of the public has become his top priority. “I had not given that a lot of thought until I got into office,” he said. “Sooner or later, something is going to happen, man made or natural disaster.” Anderson said he has petitioned to move Georgetown County’s extension of the Carolina Bays Parkway across the Waccamaw River up from its scheduled start date of 2037 for hurricane evacuation and relief of traffic congestion. He said he wanted to continue to develop an area suitable for emergency housing in case of a natural disaster and to improve the county’s economy. “Our current path is unsustainable,” he said. “We are a one-dimensional economy: tourism. We are losing our population between the ages of 19 and 44 because there are no jobs.”

Questioned by Judy Clarke, Goggans, whose wife is a teacher, said he supported Common Core education standards despite local Republican resolutions against it. “What are we afraid of?” he asked. “Having a comparison with other states is important.”

He told Marla Hamby he would not disqualify his firm from bidding on county contracts if elected. The county has a highly professional procurement process, he said, and it would limit the county’s options and his employees’ opportunities if he refused to bid. He said he would recuse himself from voting on such contracts.

Both candidates said they would support the Georgetown port. “The port is our prize that the good Lord gave us,” Anderson said. “Only a handful of counties have one, and we’re not utilizing ours.” Goggans said he was “totally supportive” of getting the port open while paying attention to the land-side impact.”

Goggans said the extension of the Carolina Bays Parkway across the Waccamaw to Highway 701 is one area where the candidates totally agree. “Mike Wooten, our highway commissioner, thinks he’s got 50 percent of the money for an environmental impact study,” he said.

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