Carolina Forest is the prime example of the rapid growth in Horry County. Twenty years after it was chartered, it has become a residential hub for locals.
Despite its growth, at the end of 2017 when the original development plan expired for the area, the area was less developed than the agreement allowed.
A lot of Carolina Forest’s future includes finishing the previously approved projects, said Horry County planner Leigh Kane, who is leading the Imagine 2040 project.
“There are entire subdivisions that are nowhere near done,” Kane said.
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But those projects are coming, and with them comes new residents.
Carolina Forest began in conjunction with developers International Paper. Development in the area was kicked into high gear by the 1997 agreement, which allowed for over 14,000 homes to be built over the next 20 years.
Halfway through that agreement, the housing market collapsed. The economy rebuilt over time, but the growth in Carolina Forest was delayed by about five years. The agreement expired in 2017, but its legacy still shapes current construction due to the recession.
Many large housing projects along Carolina Forest Boulevard already are zoned and approved, but still remain empty or under construction.
The future of Carolina Forest is largely determined, even if it is not visible, with little room left for the area to grow. To the west, the road has environmentally protected lands and to the east is the Intracoastal Waterway. The protected lands are why residents will not see business or homes pop up along much of International Drive.
Indigo Bay is an example of a housing project that was approved years back but is still in the construction phase. Other subdivisions, like Plantation Lakes, still have plots that could soon be built on.
The new construction has potentially led to increased bear sightings in the area. Many residents in Carolina Forest have reported having a bear in their yard, often eating from their bird feeders.
Kayla Brantley, a wildlife biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said in July that the construction has crept into bear habitats. The black bears are most likely harmless but should be avoided if seen.
It is against the law to purposefully feed the bears. Residents can report a bear sighting to DNR, which helps the organization decide how to respond to the bear problem.
While the houses may seem like new development, they’re probably among the last waves for the area. According to Kane, Carolina Forest’s future is going to be more about improvements than new development.
The Imagine 2040 project has given residents from the entire county a chance to tell Kane and county developers what they want. For Carolina Forest, that means more recreational activities.
One of the largest projects is the widening and updating of Carolina Forest Boulevard, which many residents hope will help curb growing traffic strains.
Started as a Ride III project, the project will add stoplights to the street and make it a four-lane road with turning lanes at intersections. It currently is in the design phase and on schedule to start the permitting phase at the end of the year.
Preliminary designs can be found on the Horry County Ride III website.
Some potential improvements residents can expect include walking paths to connect the various neighborhoods within Carolina Forest and to provide easier access to commercial areas and local parks. A multi-use path is included in the Ride III project.
And with new homes, comes new kids. Kane said two locations have been identified as potential new schools as demand grows. Both right now are planned to be elementary schools.
The area is book-ended by two shopping centers built around grocery stores: Kroger to the south and Lowe’s to the north. In between the two edges, most of Carolina Forest is zoned as residential. Without any rezonings, residents will not see many businesses in the heart of the community.
The Lowe’s area, called the Town Center, is an area where current Horry planners have more room to shape the community’s future. The hope is to turn the area near International Drive into a walkable one moving forward. Kane said that a tiny home community is currently in the works, pending final approval from Horry County Council.
“So it creates a more walkable downtownish community,” Kane said.
Carolina Forest also is home to the first piece of the East Coast Greenway, which will run along the entire eastern seaboard of the United States. The path starts at the Bike and Run Trail in Carolina Forest and runs to the Myrtle Beach State Park.
Plans include extending the path through Carolina Forest, making it where locals will have the ability to bike or walk to the ocean without ever getting on a street.