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County Council: New members will seek more input

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Incoming Georgetown County Council representatives John Thomas and Steve Goggans want to involve people from their districts in discussions about the future.

Goggans said he wants to examine land use policies that affect traffic flow, building density and green space on the Waccamaw Neck. Thomas wonders if it’s time to update the Visions process with a new round of discussions.

Thomas and Goggans will join County Council next month as representatives from Districts 1 and 6, giving most of the Waccamaw Neck first-term members facing political learning curves.

Thomas and Goggans attended a workshop for new county council representatives organized by the S.C. Association of Counties in Columbia this month and have been attending meetings to get up to speed on issues.

Both say they plan to listen carefully to constituents and fit those concerns into the county’s big picture of growth, industrial development, workforce education, quality of life and taxation.

“My passion,” Goggans said, “is land use. There are a lot of other things the county is grappling with.” Thomas said he’s looking forward to getting to know the other members of the council. “It’s not just our individual votes that get things done, it’s the whole council,” he said. “I’ve already discovered it’s not going to be as collegial as I thought, but that’s my naiveté in politics. We all understand the need to represent our constituents. Waccamaw Neck is an important part but not the whole county, so we have to work together.”

County Administrator Sel Hemingway takes new council members on a tour of the county before they take office as part of their introduction to local government. “When you get back in some rural areas and look at some of their issues, see their perceived needs, it’s illuminating,” Goggans said. “We’ve got a very diverse county.” Andrews has a burgeoning steel industry with some high-tech manufacturing at Safe Rack and a company that does fabrication for Ford Motors. “That’s a little something to build upon over time,” he said.

Thomas said Horry-Georgetown Technical College’s emphasis on welding could provide a way forward for job growth. “That feeds into the metal fabrication shops all over Andrews,” he said. “If we were to have a wind turbine off the coast, they would have to put them together at the Port of Georgetown. Of course, that’s a long ways off, but Horry-Georgetown Tech really sees a future for welding jobs around here. To be honest, I’m having to learn where those jobs would be. Apparently, they are in Andrews.”

Goggans said expansion of rail service at the county industrial park off Highway 521 would encourage prospects to take a longer look at the property. “It all works together,” he said, “the port, 521 and other businesses.” Tourism will remain the primary business of the Waccamaw Neck, he said. “It’s a clean industry. We need to continue that, foster its continued development and growth, but the county needs a little more than just tourism.”

Getting jobs in western Georgetown County has been the chicken-and-the-egg question for County Council members for years. Until the county has a better-educated workforce, they will be hard to find. Without job growth, the county will continue to lose its younger population. “It’s a generational poverty problem that’s very difficult to crack,” Thomas said.

For years, rural growth has been seen as the only way to reduce the tax burden of Waccamaw Neck property owners. They pay more than 80 percent of the county property taxes now. While that tax bill fosters resentment among some of the Neck’s property owners, the perception that the beach area gets a lion’s share of county attention cuts just as deeply on the other side of the bridges.

“The problem the Neck has that can’t be denied,” Goggans said, “is it’s growing rapidly and makes more and more demands for services. We’ve got this set of needs. Meantime, in Andrews or Pleasant Hill they might be more basic: getting a road paved, getting a fire station, access to health care.”

The disappointment of housing developments Harmony and Crown Pointe and the long delayed building at South Island Plantation and Beneventem on Black River have changed the type of growth the county can expect in the near term.

“The model is there,” Thomas said. “I would like to see those developments on the western side of Georgetown County begin to be attractive to people who want to retire down here and get more house for their money.”

Both Goggans and Thomas favor the extension of the Carolina Bays Parkway across the Intracoastal Waterway to Highway 701 as a way to alleviate through-traffic on an overburdened Highway 17 and rekindle the housing market outside Georgetown. “Never mind Pawleys Island,” Goggans said. “Georgetown will become increasingly a bottleneck. There’s going to have to be another road that crosses the river and heads to western Georgetown County. That’s possibly our long-range future solution.”

Thomas knows resistance to a new road cutting across the river near Sandy Island could prevent it from ever being built. “Even a sewer line was opposed as a precursor to development in the western part of the county,” he said. “That’s a misplaced concern. People are not flocking there.”

Goggans, an architect and builder, said national construction companies follow employment. “So Georgetown is not going to grow and probably won’t grow until there are jobs,” he said. “It’s a chicken-and-egg thing. It is possible that some land could be carved up and begin to attract a retiree element, but then look at employment.”

He said Georgetown County competes for those people with the I-26 corridor through Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties and with Myrtle Beach. Inexpensive land is not enough to attract them. “Right now,” he said, “the quality of life is better in those areas because of amenities. It will happen here in time, but it’s a little bit of a tough sell. We’ve got to work to make it more attractive.”

With the exception of a planned development on the east side of Arcadia Plantation, development on Waccamaw Neck is primarily in-fill like a proposal for 15 houses on a new cul-de-sac in Hagley Estates that will come before the Planning Commission in January.

Packing more people into smaller spaces is a deal breaker for Thomas. “We should resist efforts to rezone property in order to put in higher density building,” he said. “I think there’s been a tacit agreement on council for some time. Hopefully, we can continue that philosophy.”

Goggans has a different view on density. He thinks clustering houses and businesses would reduce traffic. “There’s an old saying in the real estate business,” he said, “the opposite of density is sprawl. What I worry about here on the Neck is that we are going to get more and more sprawl and businesses will be spread out to the point where it’s an un-walkable community.”

A project to install a raised median on Highway 17, which he opposed, is only going to highlight the lack of pedestrian options, Goggans said.

“I think we are going to need walkways and some pedestrian infrastructure because of some changes we have made in respect to the median,” he said. “A lot of people walk to work, come out to the highway to catch the bus. And you’ve got the tourist community moving around. Overall density numbers should be a consideration, but how density is applied within certain areas might need to be rethought.”

Goggans pictures a town center off Highway 17 as an alternative growth pattern for the Pawleys Island area. “It’s do-able if the correct planning is given to it,” he said. The land along Tiller Drive would be perfect for such a development, he said. “It’s one of the few areas where commercial property extends back for some distance. It gives an opportunity to cluster some businesses with public uses so that everything doesn’t have to happen on the main arterial.”

Land-use planning could influence not only future building but also population, Goggans said. “We have a very monolithic community here,” he said, “very suburban in feel. Looking forward 20 years or whatever the time span is, we could create some opportunities for that kind of development lifestyle that would be good for the community. Where do you live if you are a young person? It’s tough.”

Thomas said Pawleys Island has developed as a strip. “It’s linear,” he said. “I don’t see the motivation for creating a planned community.”

Goggans said more people are coming here and points to Greenville as a land-use success story. “Greenville has changed to bring livability downtown,” he said. “I’m interested in creating land-use policy that facilitates pedestrian infrastructure and improves aesthetics so we are an attractive community where people want to live, work and play.”

Goggans said he would favor more landscaping ordinances and sign restrictions that make the community attractive as it continues to grow. Both new council members like the idea of more paved multi-purpose paths like the one being constructed along Waverly and Kings River Road.

Thomas wonders if the county needs another strategic planning session like the Visions process that launched the Capital Improvement Program. “A lot of people have criticized that program, and a lot have moved into the area since the planning process back years ago,” he said. “I think that if we geared that process up again it would allow people who have moved into the area recently to have a sense of ownership in that process. It would give a mid-course correction, guidance to County Council and maybe change some of the CIP spending targets, and I think allow the county to come together.”

Thomas said the Parks and Recreation Department has caught most of the flak for its expansions, but the county hasn’t explained the economic benefits well enough. Stables Park, for instance, has increased nearby property values.

Goggans said he would be interested in the kind of strategic plan that integrates economic development, land use, planning and policy. “Our issues on the Neck are a lot different from issues in rural Georgetown County. I would encourage some strategic thinking relative to all parts of the county. I would encourage us to drill down and look a little more closely at what’s going on here on the Neck. We are either a big town or a small city in terms of rooftops, traffic, all the ways you measure those types of things. You’ve got to do some thinking and planning about what’s happening in a more urban area.”

Both men say they plan to listen to people’s concerns, even if they can’t make them happy. Thomas said he will rely on his days in naval intelligence. “When I was working for my boss on an aircraft carrier, it was at least as important to let him know I was responsive to his request than to deliver what he wanted,” he said. “The best thing to do is listen to people who have complaints and try and mitigate it as best we can. It’s the inexorable march of progress.”

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