Carolina Forest residents packed a county meeting room on Wednesday with a clear message: Do not develop The Wizard Golf Course.
The meeting was held at the Horry County Courthouse in Conway to discuss redevelopment plans that would put 700 homes on the golf course just off U.S. Highway 501 and Carolina Forest Boulevard.
The meeting was intended to be for the developer and engineers to meet with representatives from two neighboring HOAs, but the time and location was posted on social media earlier this week, and hundreds of people showed up on short notice.
Walter Warren with Thomas and Hutton Engineering said the meeting was intended to welcome the public to voice their concerns.
“Before we did anything, we wanted to hear from the public,” Warren said.
Developer Ronnie Parker of R.S. Parker Homes has yet to officially apply to change an agreement and allow the golf course to be developed into housing. So the meeting wasn’t necessary, but Parker said it was a chance for the public to see the preliminary plans and voice concerns before they were filed.
The Wizard Golf Course, and its neighboring Man O’ War Golf Course, take up 376 acres of an 812-acre Planned Unit Development (PUD) agreement that locks both as golf courses unless the developer gets approval from Horry County Council, according to Horry County Planning Director David Schwerd. A previous attempt to alter the PUD failed in 2006.
The 700 homes would be built on a minimum of 6,600-square-foot lots, Warren said. The sizes and prices of individual homes will differ.
The development plans showed a new traffic outlet across Postal Way onto U.S. Highway 501, a roundabout that connects to Carolina Forest High School, increased inter-connectivity and green space within the 812-acre PUD, and increased stormwater retention due to county regulations.
Warren added that no homes will be build until after the Carolina Forest Boulevard widening project is completed to help with traffic concerns. The county expects the widening to be complete by 2021.
Residents who attended the meeting overwhelming said that developing The Wizard would be bad for traffic on Carolina Forest Boulevard and Postal Way. Schwerd passed the microphone around the filled room and gave every person in attendance a chance to speak out or ask questions.
Other concerns the public had included school capacity in Carolina Forest, all the new residents increasing the burden on public safety officers and the loss of the golf course’s natural beauty.
Community activist Carole VanSickler said she spoke with Parker a year ago and told him explicitly that residents are not going to accept this development.
“I told him ‘hell no,’” she said. “I said walk away, don’t do it, don’t build all those homes, don’t bring all that traffic, just walk away.”
DG Golf Management president Claude Pardue said in July that the golf course will be sold pending a successful rezoning process that will allow homes to be built on top of the existing course.
Schwerd said currently there is no next step until plans are formally filed. If the development plans are given to staff by Tuesday, it will be placed on the Oct. 3 planning commission agenda.
Once plans to amend the PUD are submitted, it will go through an Horry County Planning staff review and then Planning Commission will make a recommendation based off a technical look at the plans. A public comment section will be held at the main meeting.
From there it goes to County Council where it must pass three readings to become official with public comment held on the second reading.
Council Members Danny Hardee and Bill Howard both attended Thursday’s meeting to hear the public concerns. Howard told the crowd he was there to serve their best interest.
“Public safety is important and we need that before we go too far with development,” Howard said. “I work for you and I’m listening.”
If County Council does not approve the redevelopment, then The Wizard will remain a golf course. Schwerd said the owners could choose to shut down the course, but they ultimately could not build on it.
Pardue has indicated he plans to continue operating the course if the proposal is denied, but he said DG Golf Management would like to operate two of its three courses – it also owns and operates The Witch Golf Links – while eliminating its remaining mortgage debt with a sale. It has been open to selling The Wizard since 2006.
And at the end of the meeting, VanSickler said if plans are filed, she wants to see the residents of Carolina Forest pack every single meeting involving The Wizard redevelopment.
“This is only the beginning,” she said. “We need to pack the planning commission meetings, the county council meetings. We say ‘hell no.’”