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Growth: We don’t want to be another Myrtle Beach (and neither do they)
By Charles Swenson
Nick Carlisi was born in Brooklyn and lived in a succession of small towns before moving to the Pawleys Island area five years ago. He is concerned about the area’s future. “I hope we don’t become another Myrtle Beach,” he told a community forum on growth this summer.
Carol Coleman has heard that before, first as the Georgetown County planning director and now in the same role at the city of Myrtle Beach. “We don’t want to be like … yeah,” she said.
But it doesn’t just come from residents on the Waccamaw Neck. Even Myrtle Beach doesn’t want to be another Myrtle Beach. “I think that’s what you are hearing now,” Coleman said. “There are a lot of places that are talking about ‘taking Myrtle back.’ We’ve experienced this tremendous growth. The key is we don’t want to just think about the tourists, we want to think about the residents also.”
A third and final round of forums on Waccamaw Neck’s future will be held next week to give people a chance to map out what they do want. John Sands, who started the process, used to work in land conservation for the Donnelley Foundation. He said it was a response to years of hearing area residents complain about growth. “A lot of our planning is inspired by what is perceived as the negative aspects of Myrtle Beach,” Sands said. “There’s a tradition of defining what we don’t want.”
The second forum, held in August, focused on what aspects of the community residents value. The final installment will be facilitated by the head of a national land-planning firm and seat participants around tables with maps and marking pens to draw out their vision of future land use.
Those who envision a future with fewer billboards and more trees, with bike paths and sidewalks or with mixed-use development that blends homes and shops will have something in common with their neighbors to the north. “One of the shining feathers in our cap, to me, is that we are the first city from Maine to Florida to complete our segment of the East Coast Greenway, which is pretty impressive,” Coleman said. The Bike the Neck path is also part of the greenway.
Myrtle Beach has a Tree City designation from the Arbor Day Foundation. “We’ve done everything we can to increase the tree canopies,” Coleman said. Some people complain because the street trees drop leaves on their lawn. “There are a whole lot of trees, which you wouldn’t expect because when you go down to the ocean it’s like Miami Beach,” she said.
Georgetown County Council Member Steve Goggans, who is also an architect and a land planner, understands what his constituents mean about “another Myrtle Beach.” “I’ve been hearing that for 25 years,” he said. “The downtown core of Myrtle Beach that we all know, it’s high rises, a very transient population, entertainment driven. I see Pawleys as being more livable.”
But Goggans has also seen changes. “They’ve pretty much gotten rid of billboards in the city limits. They have a much stricter landscaping ordinance,” he said.
Myrtle Beach also has a Community Appearance Board. In a city where King Kong climbs an imitation Empire State Building and a children’s attraction next to the Hard Rock Café’s pyramid is housed in an upside-down building, it now usually takes more than one review before designs are approved, Coleman said. “One of our planners said a lot of our stuff is ticky-tacky and everything, but you can see a change through the years in how they look at things,” she said.
Then there is traffic.
Like Pawleys Island, Highway 17 in Myrtle Beach functions as a Main Street, Kings Highway. “There are areas on Kings Highway where there are no sidewalks and it’s because the businesses have grown up and they have either encroached with landscaping, parking or whatever,” Coleman said. And the lanes are 14 to 15 feet wide, the same as an interstate highway. “I would love to see Kings Highway somewhat reduced in terms of not total capacity, but I’d like to see the speed reduced,” she said. “I would love to see sidewalks or multi-purpose paths.”
After Coleman left Georgetown County to work for Horry County, she continued to live on Front Street in Georgetown for another year and commute to Conway. “I loved living in Downtown Georgetown. I see we have that same potential if we can tap into it,” she said.
The model already exists inside the Myrtle Beach city limits.
Cal Harrelson lives in the same place where his father used to hunt turkey, quail and squirrels with his dog Blackie in the late 1920s and early ’30s. It was next to land that became Harrelson Municipal Airport in 1939, named for the city’s first mayor, who was Harrelson’s grandfather. It became a military airfield in World War II and eventually an Air Force base. Now it is known as Market Common.
Harrelson’s parents lived for many years at DeBordieu, and he lived in Pawleys Island and Murrells Inlet. He is a former president of the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce. Harrelson likes Market Common because the “new urban” design that mixes residential and commercial uses has a sense of community. “It’s a great place to live because you can walk,” Harrelson said. “Maybe Myrtle Beach is missing the community aspect of living in South Carolina.”
“It’s a pretty neat lifestyle,” Coleman said. She would like to see the concept extend to other parts of the city such as the old downtown where Harrelson’s grandfather opened the first pharmacy. A new library and children’s museum have been proposed for the area. “That area has been in decline since they built the mall that no longer exists,” she said, referring to Myrtle Square, which is now an empty lot across from the convention center.
The concept goes hand in hand with a walkability study the city commissioned with a grant from the Association of Realtors. “It’s not just that they’re walkable,” Coleman said. “You can revitalize them. Areas that seem to be forgotten.”
Mixed-use development also has the advantage of expanding the tax base. Coleman’s tenure at Georgetown County included the first battle over big-box retail stores on Waccamaw Neck. She wrote the ordinance that limits the size of stores. “It’s a double-edged sword. Residential development really doesn’t pay for itself when you’re looking at it from a tax-base standpoint. You have to have residential development to get commercial development,” she said. “Market Common has been a good addition because it does have a commercial core.”
Boyd Johnson, Georgetown County’s current planning director, said Myrtle Beach is making strides. When he hears people talk about not wanting the Waccamaw Neck to become like Myrtle Beach, “I would say it means more high rises. Fifteen years ago, I would have said that meant higher density. Intensity might be a better word,” Johnson said.
He also hears people say they don’t want this area to become another Mount Pleasant (too much traffic) or another Hilton Head (where directional signs are too small to read). Johnson also points out that much of what people dislike about Myrtle Beach isn’t actually in the city but in the unincorporated areas of Horry County.
“Everybody gets lumped in a Myrtle Beach,” Coleman said. “Myrtle Beach to a lot of people goes from the North Carolina line all the way down to probably the Waccamaw Neck.” In fact, it’s the area east of the Intracoastal Waterway between Market Common and the Dunes Club, with a slight jog west of the waterway at Grande Dunes. The northern end is more like the beach along the Waccamaw Neck. “It’s very unspoiled,” Coleman said. “A lot of tourists have no idea so many people live here full time.”
It is also a side of Myrtle Beach that isn’t seen by Waccamaw Neck residents who drive to the airport or the big-box stores, which she agrees are a draw. “I would like for there to be more. If we could bring more with the performing arts center, that would be wonderful,” Coleman said. That project is envisioned for a site near Broadway at the Beach and the Pelicans baseball field. “We definitely have our own personality,” she said. “There’s no doubt that it’s completely different, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
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