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Highway 17: Cut in building setback riles residents

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Council will consider second reading of an ordinance to change the setback on Highway 17 and parts of Highway 701 from 90 to 50 feet Tuesday.

The meeting promises to be a repeat of a public hearing held by the county Planning Commission last year on the change with dozens of people speaking against the change. Opposition has been gathering since Georgetown County Council reversed a decision its members made during a committee meeting to include the setback in a highway corridor study scheduled by the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study on the Waccamaw Neck. Council members reconvened the committee — without the required 24-hour public notice — during the regular meeting, voted to remove the setback issue from the corridor study and passed first reading of an ordinance to change the setback to 50 feet.

The Litchfield Country Club Property Owners Association voted Monday to express its members’ dismay at the council’s action.

“The efforts to reduce the setback is nothing more than a thinly disguised push to allow developers to build bigger buildings and place them dramatically closer to the highway,” POA president Ed Quillian’s letter to Council Chairman Johnny Morant says. “Such would obviously increase density, increase the intensity of use of the land and put us squarely on the path to becoming Myrtle Beach South.”

Council Member Steve Goggans, who proposed the reduction of the setback to 50 feet, says density won’t change and there will be no impact on stormwater management or traffic. There’s even room, he says, for an expansion of Highway 17 to six lanes if the setback is reduced on the Neck. Goggans says there are 177 non-conforming buildings on Highway 17 with the potential for more in “planned developments” that have approval. He argues that policy should fit historic land use.

Goggans says he’s looking forward to the presentation of information gathered by the county planning staff. He expected more “hard facts” at the committee meeting before members voted to include the setback in the GSATS study. “I think we’ll hear a recap of the Planning Commission’s report,” he said. “There will be some new and supplemental information that will be useful, not all of it beneficial to my point of view, but I think we need to hear that.”

Goggans said he opposes including the setback in the GSATS study. “I believe that if the setback issue is not determined the corridor study will get sidetracked or will be dominated by the setback issue while many other issues will need thoughtful consideration,” he says in a letter to the editor in today’s newspaper.

Meanwhile, the community leaders who summoned protests of big box stores are encouraging citizens to attend next Tuesday’s meeting in the Old Courthouse on Screven Street at 5:30 p.m.

“If our county is to make a zoning change this significant,” Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis says in a letter today, “what other changes to our overlay zone will be next?”

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