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Why the Highway 31 interchange planned for Carolina Forest is running into a roadblock

Carolina Forest continues to expand over the years

Carolina Forest is a residential powerhouse in Horry County. Started in 1997, it is actually less developed than originally planned. What does the future of the area look like and what can residents expect?
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Carolina Forest is a residential powerhouse in Horry County. Started in 1997, it is actually less developed than originally planned. What does the future of the area look like and what can residents expect?

Carolina Forest could get some traffic relief, but there is a bump in the road for Horry County Government.

There are currently plans to build an interchange off Carolina Forest Boulevard accessing S.C. 31, and Horry County already purchased some of the “right of way” land needed to build it.

However, part of the land needed for the interchange is on the future site of The Parks @ Carolina Forest, owned by Forestar (USA) Realtor Group. The developer has requested to have its property exempt from a map created for the project. Doing so could allow the owners to apply for redevelopment in the future.

The topic was discussed at Thursday’s Planning Commission workshop meeting. While no votes were taken, county staff is recommending the land not be exempt, requiring Horry County to purchase it for the interchange plan.

While any transfer of money would require negotiations with the owner and County Council approval, Planning Commission will vote on its recommendation next week at its full meeting on June 6.

If the request isn’t approved, as staff recommended, County Council will have 75 days to purchase it. The land has not been appraised, according to Planning Director David Schwerd, so there isn’t an exact number as to how much the land purchase might cost.

However, if no action is taken, the owner goes through the proper rezoning process and the land is built on, Schwerd said the odds of an interchange being built could drastically decrease.

“If they don’t act in 75 days, then the applicant has the right to come in and apply for a rezoning to develop,” he said. “If it is rezoned and developed, if they actually put construction on it, I don’t think the County is going to go in and condemn 60 houses to build the interchange.”

Traffic relief

The aim of this project is to give Carolina Forest Boulevard drivers an easier option to get out. The road currently is lined with homes, and bookended by two major shopping centers on each side. Traffic build-ups are common.

The widening of Carolina Forest is expected to begin in June, which will help with traffic, but the Highway 31 exit would allow residents to travel north or south without passing through the business-heavy areas on either side of the boulevard.

“This project will provide a much-needed outlet in the middle of Carolina Forest avoiding those two very busy intersections,” according to county documents presented to the commission.

The interchange will most likely be located at Revolutionary War Way near the Carolina Forest Library. It will then connect to Augusta Drive on the other side of Highway 31.

The $47 million project was identified in the Grand Strand Area Transportation Study’s recommendations, which looks to correct many of the congestion problems in Georgetown and Horry counties.

Connecting Revolutionary War Way to Augusta Drive also was in the original plans for Carolina Forest when the area was first being developed. Schwerd said little in the way of what plans have been made for exactly how the on-ramp to Highway 31 might look like at this time, although it will most likely be a horn-shaped ramp.

The Parks @ CF

Located near the northern side of Carolina Forest, the property totals almost 500 acres in size near the Carolina Forest Library. Regardless of what happens with the interchange, more than 1,000 homes can be built on the property.

Due to an official map for the interchange, approved in 2017 by County Council, The Parks’ developer could not apply for rezoning near the exit ramp without an exemption.

Official maps for construction projects are created by the planning commission and Horry County Council. The maps do a variety of things, including giving the government the right of first refusal to buy the land and restricting zoning requests within the map boundaries.

An exemption must then be approved by County Council.

Official map exemptions don’t come up often. The last exemption request was in 2006, Schwerd said.

Schwerd added when this specific map was adopted, the developer agreed to leave the portion of land empty for the interchange.

“When the Park came in 2017, as a part of their rezoning, we asked they set aside this area as a part of the rezoning,” he said. “At the same time, they were going through that process, planning commission and Horry County adopted the official map for the interchange.”

Now, however, the developer is looking to add homes on the portion of land, if it can get it’s exemption approved. A vote in Forestar’s favor could allow for 60 more units. To do so, the developer would still need to come back before planning commission and county council.

“The exemption doesn’t give them the right to build, it gives the ability to ask to build,” Schwerd said.

In the application submitted to the County on behalf of Forestar, the developer said the 20 acres will also help with traffic flow within the development.

Neither a representative from Forestar or from project engineers Thomas & Hutton spoke Thursday.

Forestar did not respond to an email request for comment.

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