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Highway 17: Reduced setback won’t increase density, Goggans says

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Reducing the building setback along Highway 17 will only add about 1 percent to the buildable area on an acre lot, according to County Council Member Steve Goggans, the chief proponent of the change. “This is not a density issue,” he told the Waccamaw Neck Council of Property Owners Associations this week.

Equipped with figures on a flip chart and a PowerPoint presentation, Goggans wasn’t able to convince the group, which represents 48 associations. Its members voted to oppose reducing the setback from 90 feet to 50 feet. The change was approved by the Georgetown County Planning Commission this month and now faces a vote by County Council.

County Council Member John Thomas opposes the change. “Councilman Goggans and the Planning Commission have not provided a compelling reason for changing the setback,” he told the POA council. “The Planning Commission completely missed the point.”

Thomas said reducing the setback will result in “more people, more traffic, more congestion” and change the look of the Waccamaw Neck.

Goggans used the example of a 1-acre lot, equal to 43,560 square feet, to make his point. With a 10,000-square-foot retail building and the county’s requirement that 30 percent of the lot be pervious to water, that leaves less than half the lot for parking. And by his calculation, based on county standards, that would take up another 20,000 square feet.

The remaining space: 492 square feet, Goggans said. Reducing the setback by 40 feet wouldn’t create more room for the building, he said.

There are already buildings closer than 90 that either existed before the county adopted zoning or were given an exemption to that requirement through zoning changes. “Historically speaking, most of our businesses were located within 50 feet of the highway,” Goggans said.

He told the POA council members that owners of buildings that are non-conforming face problems with title insurance, mortgages and the ability to rebuild if damaged over 70 percent of their value.

Thomas disputed that. He said he spoke with the Georgetown County attorney who told him there are ways to “grandfather” existing structures to make sure the setback doesn’t cause a hardship.

“A 50-foot setback would do nothing to enhance the character of the area,” Thomas said. “It would give the feeling of crowding rather than fostering a feeling of openness consistent with the Lowcountry feel.”

But Goggans said he plans to ask the county to come up with more stringent landscaping standards for new developments along Highway 17. He will also ask for the planning staff to develop a master plan for sidewalks and bike paths, which he would like to see implemented along the highway.

“Granted, I didn’t do a very good job of rolling this out,” Goggans said of the setback proposal.

POA council members were skeptical. “You tell me a developer is not going to get the most he can?” said Mike Banucci of The Reserve. “Buildable space adds density.

Bern Sweeney of Pawleys Plantation said the only thing visible in some developments closer than 90 feet is the back of the buildings.

But Jim Christian of DeBordieu said he thinks the two council members should be looking for a compromise. “All is not rosy at your end,” he told Thomas. “All is not rosy at his end.”

Christian and John Sands of Huntington Marsh were the only two votes cast against opposing the setback reduction.

Frank D’Amato of the Tradition Club said he thought Goggans was more concerned about developers than residents.

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