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Growth: Forum helps residents map out the future
By Charles Swenson
It was a light-bulb moment. Not incandescent. Like a compact fluorescent, it took a little time to warm up, but then it illuminated the future for residents who gathered around maps of the Waccamaw Neck and tried to chart the way the area will grow.
Shopping centers along major roads, said Victor Dover, partner in a Miami-based firm that has helped plan communities around the world, “are really land banks.”
Among the 100 or so residents who attended a forum on growth led by Dover last week, the Litchfield Landing shopping center stood out. It was built in the 1980s for a grocery store, a drug store and shops. A Bi-Lo grocery store moved out in 2014. Participants who had thought of it as a moribund shopping center, now saw an opportunity.
“Two important ones for us were walkable communities and some reusage of the old Bi-Lo store,” said James O’Sullivan, reporting the consensus of the seven people around his table to the audience.
Other groups reached the same conclusion. There need to be “incentives for revitalizing and repurposing vacant buildings, as opposed to just building new,” said Amy Webb.
“Redevelop the Bi-Lo shopping center,” said Cara Schildtknecht.
“Do it as a pilot, rather than trying to do everything everywhere,” Dover told the group around Schildtknecht’s table. “If it’s an island of walkability, for example, that would be better than no walkability at all.”
The forum was the third, and likely the last, in a series started by John Sands, a Murrells Inlet resident who worked on land conservation for the Donnelley Foundation. Earlier sessions gave people the opportunity to talk about concerns and about the characteristics they value. Through a grant from the Bunnelle Foundation and an anonymous donor, he brought in Dover and Luiza Leite, a town planner, from the Dover, Kohl & Associates to lead residents through a planning exercise.
Seated around tables with maps and colored markers, the groups were asked to come up with three items in the community they value for the future, two places where they see a big concern or a big opportunity, and one short-term and one long-term step toward their vision of the future.
Dover had two goals for the session. Neither included reshaping the Waccamaw Neck over the course of two hours. He admired the “long views” as he explored the area with Sands earlier in the day. Over lunch at Caledonia Golf and Fish Club he admired the way a cypress tree on the bank framed the view across the former ricefields to the Waccamaw River. He wanted the forum to give the participants a feeling that their input was valuable, he said. And he wanted the experience to frame the idea that growth and change aren’t inherently bad, but can be shaped for positive outcomes.
Georgetown County is due to update its future land use plan next year. A report from Dover, Kohl will help shape the local review committees on Waccamaw Neck, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.
“What really comes across here is the openness to new ideas,” Sands said. “That to me is the most important gain for this whole series.” It’s the alternative to saying No to change.
“You just did a part of the process that’s really meant to be setting the stage for things that will take generations to unfold,” Dover told the participants. “Keep that idea of you planting the tree anyway even if it might not mature to provide the shade for you in your lifetime. It will make a difference to the person who comes after you, and that’s why we plan.”
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