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Development: POA council offers idea to preserve 90-foot highway setback

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Members of area property owners associations say Georgetown County should keep its 90-foot building setback along Highway 17, but allow structures that are closer to the highway to rebuild if destroyed by a disaster.

County Council Member Steve Goggans wants to reduce the setback from 90 to 50 feet, saying that structures that existed before the zoning ordinance was adopted or that were allowed by the county to build with a 50-foot setback won’t be allowed to rebuild if destroyed or damaged more than 50 percent of their value. He also says a 50-foot setback would allow businesses to put parking at the rear rather than on Highway 17, improving the streetscape.

The county planning director said the issue is “probably the most interesting thing since Walmart,” which was proposed for the Pawleys Island Plaza redevelopment.

The board of the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Associations this week adopted a resolution to keep the current setback, but allow non-conforming structures to rebuild on the same footprint if destroyed. “That precludes anybody from expanding into the 50 feet,” Tom Stickler, who chairs the board, said. “That removes one of Steve Goggans’ biggest arguments.”

The resolution will be put before the council’s member associations at their annual meeting Oct. 26. The Planning Commission will discuss the setback at its meeting Oct. 15.

“That makes a lot of sense to me, rather than going to 50 feet,” said Tom Leis, a POA council board member.

The county planning staff is compiling data about how many structures along Highway 17 on Waccamaw Neck don’t conform to the 90-foot setback. “We haven’t come up with a recommendation yet,” said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

The POA council’s idea isn’t one he would have proposed. “I don’t really like that,” Johnson said. “I guess it’s doable.” Something similar exists for restaurants on Business 17 in Murrells Inlet, he added, and he said the staff would consider it in their review.

A structure inside the 90-foot setback that is part of a “planned development” isn’t a non-conforming use, Johnson said. The planned development is a zoning district that already has county approval. The staff study won’t include them in its count of non-conforming structures.

Johnson said the staff will recommend either the 50 or 90 feet. “We know this is a sensitive issue,” he said. “We know there’s going to be people on both sides.”

The POA council plans to have Goggans and Council Member John Thomas, who opposes the reduced setback, at their October meeting. The council will mark its 25th anniversary. Board members say taking the setback issues to the membership for a vote and having the discussion will help renew interest in the organization.

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