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1,800 homes, one exit: Island Green residents look to continue fight against development

New homes planned for Island Green despite single entrance

New homes are planned for the Island Green community despite the subdivision having only a single access road. There are plans for an additional 700 homes in the 1100 unit development that is currently accessed by Sunnehanna Drive.
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New homes are planned for the Island Green community despite the subdivision having only a single access road. There are plans for an additional 700 homes in the 1100 unit development that is currently accessed by Sunnehanna Drive.

Island Green residents all dressed in green packed Thursday’s Horry County Planning Commission meeting in a last-ditch effort to get the board to change its mind.

And while the residents had success in getting the board to again listen to their concerns — allowing over 300 new houses in an already large housing project with only one exit — the commission eventually stuck to its initial decision, saying it’s the only way to make safety improvements to the road.

At issue is Sunnehanna Drive, the only exit to the development that will eventually have around 1,800 homes. The residents are concerned over who will pay for the road repairs since Sunnehanna Drive is private and not maintained by Horry County.

After a lengthy discussion, the commission was split during a vote to change its past decision or stick with its vote to allow the developer to move forward.

Commission Chair Steven Neeves had to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Island Green is one of the biggest messes Neeves said he’s seen during his time on planning commission, but he voted in favor of the developer as it’s the only way to make necessary safety improvements to Sunnehanna Drive.

“I’ve got to vote and I am going to do what I think is responsible,” Neeves said. “I think the safety of the road is more important than the second entrance.”

Sunnehanna Safety

Located in the Burgess Community area outside of Myrtle Beach, Island Green is largely a retirement community centered around a now-closed golf course. Within its area, there are over 20 separate HOAs in operation.

Current Horry County development regulations require two exits for a neighborhood with more than 100 homes to make sure traffic flows within the development and there is adequate access for public safety.

Island Green could have 1,800 homes with just one dedicated exit.

The development was started before the rule was made, and Sunnehanna is a private road outside of Horry County maintenance. In a sense, it’s grandfathered in, but the developers can’t build more homes without improving the road.

Developer Bob Williamsen, who wasn’t the owner when the development began, said making improvements to the development is one of his priorities.

His engineering agent, Steve Powell, with Venture Engineering, said building more homes would help finance public safety and traffic flow improvements to Sunnehanna Drive.

“If you’re concerned about safety in Island Green, letting this project isn’t just the best option, it’s the only option unless Horry County wants to come in and do it itself,” Powell said.

The improvements would include repaving, widening and adding turn lanes to help traffic flow and safety.

Williamsen said his goal is to improve the community, but he doesn’t feel it is fair or economically feasible for him to shoulder the burden of fixing the road since he wasn’t the original developer. He was willing to contribute, but thought ideally residents should contribute.

It’s also unclear who owns a portion of the road, Powell said.

Many of the residents in past meetings have said since Williamsen will be profiting from the new homes, he should be responsible for paying for improvements.

While there is still the debate as to if the HOAs should have to contribute money to the improvements, planning commission approving the design modification means the developer must make them regardless of who ends up paying.

This is why Neeves voted in favor of the developer’s request. While both residents and the developer agree Sunnehanna needs improvement, Neeves is worried that without concrete plans the more than 20 HOAs in Island Green would never reach an agreement to make the improvements.

An Island Green HOA President Debbie Godman, who lives in Island Green East, disagreed. She said after the vote during general public comment that she believed the residents and HOAs could have worked together to get a special tax district or improve the road without additional homes coming in.

“I can assure you everyone here in the green shirts represent all of Island Green. We do come together, we have helped fix the road. I told you that on June 6,” Godman said.

What’s next?

A design modification does not need Horry County Council approval like a normal rezoning request. Planning commission’s word is final.

The developer can start building new homes as long as it meets all county standards. Williamsen said his builder plans on completing the phases over the next few years. The road improvements must be completed before the final house is finished.

Williamsen said he is already working up logistical plans to keep traffic flowing during road constructions. Depending on talks with a neighboring housing development, a second emergency-only exit could be built to give public safety officers another entrance.

The residents of Island Green have limited options moving forward if they want to stop further development.

Hypothetically, someone in the community could sue Horry County and planning commission within the next 30 days over the decision to allow the design modification to move forward, according to Horry County Attorney David Jordan who was asked by Neeves to explain the residents’ options.

Godman said she doesn’t know if the residents will decide to sue or not, but she hopes the HOAs all get together soon to decide what they’re going to do next. Her HOA in particular already has an attorney it keeps on retainer.

She did make one promise: Island Green isn’t done fighting.

“We’re going to have to regroup and get together right away,” she said. “They haven’t heard the last of us. We’re not giving up.”

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