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Highway 17: Change in building setback added to corridor study

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Council delayed making a decision on reducing the setback along Highway 17 this week by agreeing to request the issue be included as part of a corridor study planned by the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study.

The council’s Administration and Finance Committee met Tuesday to discuss Council Member Steve Goggans’ proposal to reduce the setback along Highway 17 and parts of Highway 701 from 90 to 50 feet. All seven council members serve on the committee. The decision will be formalized at next week’s regular council meeting.

Council Chairman Johnny Morant suggested consolidating the setback issue with the GSATS corridor study, and Council Member John Thomas made it a motion.

The study will only consider Highway 17 on the Waccamaw Neck. Council Member Austin Beard said the council could consider the other areas affected by the setback proposal separately.

Goggans opposed the idea of delaying a decision. “I’m not comfortable,” he said, “and do object for a variety of reasons. I don’t think we need these folks telling us what our setback should be.”

Goggans said an engineering firm will likely do the corridor study and may not have the skills to determine the setback. They often operate from the perspective that “more is better,” he said.

He said relying on GSATS was a poor way to proceed. “We need to make a decision,” he said.

Thomas said it would be premature to make the setback change without considering information that could be gathered in the corridor study and from more community input.

Goggans answered that adding the setback issue to the corridor study was “a big distraction.”

Morant said the study’s results would not be binding on the council. “The more public input the better,” he said, “even if it’s over an extended period.” Thomas said the study could model the effects of the setback change on traffic, stormwater runoff and pressure on infrastructure. “It would inform us better than we are informed now,” he said.

Goggans said the 50-foot setback’s impact on density, stormwater and traffic would be zero. Thomas quoted a report from the county planning staff that said changing the setback would result in 16 percent more buildable area.

Goggans said the committee had not even heard the report from the county’s Planning Commission — it recommended changing the setback to 50 feet. “We are getting the cart before the horse procedurally,” Goggans said.

Council Member Ron Charlton said he was not comfortable making the decision at the committee meeting. He said esthetics are more pleasing with a 50-foot setback but the density increase is an unanswered question. “We don’t have to make a decision,” he said.

Leona Myers-Miller said she was worried about owners of non-conforming houses on Highway 17 being denied permission to rebuild if 70 percent destroyed by fire or storm. Thomas said they could be grandfathered and rebuilt on the same footprint. County Planning director Boyd Johnson said there could be legal questions if the Waccamaw Neck houses are grandfathered but others in the county are not.

Goggans pressed one more time for the committee to take action. “I don’t understand why the committee won’t make a decision,” he said. “Continuing to study it won’t accomplish anything.”

The committee members voted 5-2 with Goggans and Myers-Miller in the minority to allow GSATS to study the setback first.

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