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Highway 17: Council members in accord as setback change goes to committee

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The debate about changing the setback rules on Highways 17 and 701 will continue into next year following Georgetown County Council Chairman Johnny Morant’s decision to schedule a workshop on the issue in January.

Morant moved to alter the council’s agenda this week, removing first reading of an ordinance to change the setback rules from 90 to 50 feet and sending it to the Administration and Finance Committee for a workshop. That committee, comprised of all council members, will meet in January for a workshop that is open to the public. The ordinance could be killed, modified or moved to the council’s Jan. 26 agenda for first reading.

Both Steve Goggans, who first proposed changing the setback to 50 feet, and John Thomas, who wants it to remain 90 feet, found advantages in the two-month delay.

“I was not initially too keen on this,” Goggans said, “but after gnashing it over I think it’s good. I do think we need to get more facts, the bigger picture. People need to understand where I’m going.”

Goggans has said changing the setback to 50 feet is one part of a larger package of changes he wants to make along the Highway 17 corridor on Waccamaw Neck. Those include updating a 2003 corridor study, expanding landscaping requirements, improving the tree ordinance and developing a master plan for sidewalks and bike paths.

Goggans had planned to introduce a resolution this week for the council to ask the Planning Commission to start work on the sidewalk plan. With the change in the setback proposal, he didn’t bring it up.

And Goggans also said he wants the county to consider re-establishing the Architectural Review Board as an advisory board. It was created as an appeals board and disbanded – with Goggans as chairman – after it waived a roof design requirement for the Publix supermarket.

“The workshop will be an opportunity to get the facts and make a fact-based decision,” Goggans said. “It’s an opportunity to get some more public input in a focused way. A standard council meeting allows 30 minutes for public comment with so many minutes per speaker. This will get more public comment. The council will be better informed and make a better decision.”

Thomas sees the delay as an opportunity to convince other council members that a majority of Waccamaw Neck residents, rather than the usual activists, oppose changing the setback. “It’s clear there’s a different experience for people on the other side of the river,” Thomas said. “They don’t understand what all the hubbub is. I’ve got to convince council this is something no one wants except Steve Goggans.”

County Council members aren’t the only ones who want to study the issue. Pawleys Island Town Council this week failed to support a resolution by Mayor Bill Otis opposing a 50-foot setback on Highway 17.

Otis called the change “the tip of the iceberg” in increasing commercial development along Highway 17. In the past, the town has opposed plans for big-box retail stores on the highway, which is outside the town limits. None of the four council members offered a second to the resolution.

Council Member Mike Adams said he is concerned about changes to the Highway 17 corridor, but he wanted more information. Two council members who took office this week, Rocky Holliday and Ashley Carter, told Otis they also wanted more information.

Otis said he may reintroduce the resolution in December.

Thomas was satisfied that the county workshop stalled the ordinance’s progress through the three readings required before the reduced setback can take effect. “Having it delayed until January stops the momentum and buys time for other council members to realize they don’t need to vote for a change,” he said.

Goggans said he doesn’t want members of the community to feel the ordinance is being “crammed down their throats.” He said he favors moving things along in a contemplative way. He thinks the public will understand the idea once it’s presented in context. “The workshop,” he said, “will help me articulate a broader agenda.”

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