Proposal to re-zone part of Carolina Forest met with resistance

01/31/2014 12:00 AM

01/30/2014 5:37 PM

Some residents of the Ashley Park Homes in the Carolina Forest area are concerned about a proposed 311-unit apartment complex by developers Gateway Residential LLC, claiming if Horry County approves the proposal, it could cause more traffic congestion, more overcrowding at Carolina Forest Elementary School and reduced property values.

However, Steve Powell, president of Conway-based Venture Engineering who spoke on behalf of Gateway Thursday, said proposed plans actually call for less beds and the addition of an in-ground pool, fitness center and a new club house.

A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 6, but members of the Horry County Planning Commission had a workshop Thursday to talk about the proposal from Gateway. Gateway would like the county to re-zone nearly 17 acres of property it purchased in Ashley Park Homes to house an apartment complex from its original zoning for condominiums. There are currently 96 units filled at Ashley Park, and if Gateway were to be granted all 311 units, it would surpass its original density level by 56 units.

Powell said the property is currently zoned to house 244 three-bedroom units, which equals 732 beds. That, he says, is 60 beds more than Gateway’s proposal of 48 one-bedroom units, 150 two-bedroom units and 102 three-bedroom units, which should be seen as a positive to the school system.

“The three bedroom units would tend to cater to the school-aged families moreso than folks who don’t have children,” Powell said. “There’s a better argument that this is a reduction in density than this is an increase in density. If you look straight at the number of units, yes, there’s an increase in density. If you look at the number of people who can sleep in these units, then it’s a reduction in density.”

But Ashley Park Homes property owner Robert Hans is not buying it. Hans and his wife bought a condominium in Ashley Park last summer and said he fears Section 8 housing, or government-subsidized housing, will go in there. That’s when, he said, property values will decrease and traffic congestion will be greater.

“This is going to be a huge impact for the community as a whole because of the fact that it’s congested already,” Hans said before Thursday’s meeting. “What we want to see is three-bedroom family units put in there. We don’t mind him going higher, we just want him to stick to the original plan.

“You start bringing apartments in, it’s going to drop property value for the whole Carolina Forest, not just our development.

Carol Coleman, deputy director for Horry County Planning and Zoning, said at Thursday’s meeting that she spoke with officials from the Horry County School District who does not support the plan for apartment-style housing.

“They did state that they could not support an apartment community with a higher density because the apartment community would create a higher demand on an already stressed school district in that community,” Coleman said.

Bo Ives, president of the Carolina Forest Civic Association, said the association has not taken a stance on the issue, but he said he has heard concerns of circulation of traffic, overcrowding of schools and housing style being changed from townhome to multi-family.

“The residents surrounding Ashley Park are concerned because of the experience we had evacuating Windsor Green,” Ives said. “They’re concerned with additional traffic in that area in another emergency situation where there’s only one way in and one way out, is a major concern.”

Ives was referring to the March 2013 Windsor Green fire where 26 condominiums burned, forcing a rapid evacuation and leaving 190 people homeless.

Powell said he doesn’t think the housing market for three-bedroom condominiums is set to boon.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to build condos right now and I don’t think anybody’s going to build three-bedroom condos right now,” Powell said. “There’s just not a market for that in the Carolina Forest area. So we’d all like to get this on the tax base, get people to work and get construction going.

“While I understand and appreciate the Ashley Park owners’ concern that this is going to be Section 8 housing, frankly the best thing they can do to avoid Section 8 housing is probably to support this re-zoning. If this developer goes away, then affordable housing is about the only option, that I’m aware of, that can go in out there and it can go in there with the current zoning.”

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