Why a request to build condos on Litchfield tennis courts was withdrawn, and what’s next

Litchfield Racquet Club may be demolished to build condo complex

The Litchfield Racquet Club has existed for 52 years, but developers have a contract to purchase the land and build 108 one-bedroom condos on the location of the 17 clay courts pending a zoning change. Former club members plan to fight the rezoning.
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The Litchfield Racquet Club has existed for 52 years, but developers have a contract to purchase the land and build 108 one-bedroom condos on the location of the 17 clay courts pending a zoning change. Former club members plan to fight the rezoning.

A request to amend zoning to allow the building of 108 one-bedroom condominiums on the site of Litchfield Racquet Club in Pawleys Island has been withdrawn.

Developer Trey Smith withdrew his request with Georgetown County on Wednesday citing strong community opposition, and is now planning to submit a request for an amendment that will significantly drop the density of his proposed development to single-family housing.

The request was on the agenda of the Georgetown County Planning Commission on Thursday before it was rescinded. The commission would have given a recommendation to county council to either approve or deny the rezoning request.

Litchfield Racquet Club includes a clubhouse and 17 clay tennis courts that have been part of Litchfield Country Club since it opened in 1966. But the courts were closed in October by property owner Founders Group International, which owns and operates 22 Grand Strand golf courses.

FGI cited several years of the racquet club’s financial struggles for its closing.

A group of former Litchfield Racquet Club members have created a campaign to save the courts – or at a minimum the green space – including a possible purchase of the property if rezoning is not approved.

Pending development

Smith, a developer, realtor and Pawleys Island resident, is the managing partner of a group that formed the Wimbledon Village LLC and has a sales contract with FGI for the courts, which includes a nonrefundable deposit, he said.

Smith declined to go into further detail about the sale of the property. “I’m not going to discuss the particulars of that, but we are in control of that property,” Smith said.

Smith is attempting to change zoning within the Litchfield CC Planned Development (PD) that will allow the building of homes on the courts, which are zoned for recreational use.

He said he has read a petition and dozens of letters submitted to Georgetown County in opposition of his proposed condo project – mostly from neighboring residents including those in The Bridges of Litchfield – and will create a plan that is more consistent with surrounding housing.

“We read those and took heed of the planning staff’s recommendations and we decided to withdraw our request,” Smith said. “We decided to come up with a different plan we think will be more feasible and also make everyone a little bit happier.”

The initial plan called for 108 condos in nine buildings, which is the maximum density allowed by the county, and the conversion of the 2,500-square-foot tennis clubhouse for commercial use – possibly a professional office – which will still be part of a new proposal, Smith said. The 8.8-acre property would have also included wetlands and a stormwater retention pond covering more than 2 acres.

Smith said most of the concerns he read regarded the building of condos. “It’s unfortunate because I feel there is a need for that in my area,” Smith said, “but if we keep hearing that same recurring thing over and over again I think we’ll come back with a single-family composition. . . . We’re going to try to come up with a plan where the homes are still as affordable as they can be but are in keeping with the southern charm [of Pawleys Island].”

He said he plans to meet with some neighboring homeowners, including those living in The Bridges, to address specific concerns including buffers, the positioning of a lake and tree retention. “We’re going to try to put as much consideration into that as possible to make these guys happy,” Smith said.

But Smith said retaining more than a couple tennis courts in the development is not a serious consideration.

He said he made “a very reasonable offer” to sell about nine courts, the clubhouse, a grandstand, some infrastructure and more than 30 parking spaces to the tennis group, but said it was rejected without a counter offer.

“This isn’t a discussion about whether or not tennis is coming back there, because tennis is not coming back,” Smith said. “It’s a matter of what this property is going to be because it will be something, and it might be an overgrown, vine-infested snake pit, but it’s not going to be tennis. The change is coming.”

Destruction of the tennis courts has already begun.

Smith has torn down fencing in front of and behind about eight courts, retaining the fencing around the nine courts that were included in his sales offer to the opposition tennis group, he said.

Fences are taken down at the Litchfield Racquet Club earlier this month. Photo courtesy of Trey Smith

“Those fences are absolutely overgrown with vines,” Smith said. “We’re getting into the spring season now where things are going to start to grow, things are going to become a lot more vibrant and will be a lot harder to tear down. That property is going to waste. It’s going to be overgrown if somebody doesn’t care for it. It’s been a long time since anyone has really put any kind of money or care into it.

“Our purpose is to start cleaning that property up for its next use.”

Public opinion

Despite the condo request being pulled from the planning commission agenda, a large opposition group attended the meeting and several were allowed to speak, including Marlajean Hamby, a spokesperson for the group of former tennis members.

Hamby, who was a 33-year member of Litchfield Racquet Club and is retired from custom homebuilding and real estate sales and development, said opposition to the redevelopment of the tennis courts has expanded to several homeowner associations along the Waccamaw Neck.

“It has expanded to a very large group of people and our position is we are going to insist the zoning remain the same,” Hamby said, “that it must remain recreational, that no apartments, no houses, no structures will be built and it will stay consistent with the established county land plan that was promised to the citizens.”

She said there will be a large contingent representing the tennis group at all future rezoning hearings, and it considers any form of green space better than housing, though it won’t give up on its hope of reviving the tennis club, especially if the zoning isn’t changed.

Michael Mushock, one of the tennis group’s organizers, said there are about a dozen investors that would consider purchasing the property.

“Once the rezoning is defeated, that group may very well coalesce again and deal with the legal owner of the property,” said Hamby, whose family homebuilding company was called Carolina Custom Concepts.

Mushock contends the racquet club struggled fiscally because tennis and the courts were not a priority for – and were therefore mismanaged by – recent owners who were much more concerned with golf.

The tennis group has started the Facebook group called “Community Support For The Preservation of Litchfield and Surrounding Areas” and it has more than 330 members.

“No one wants increased traffic,” Mushock said. “The reason they moved here is because of a slower pace of life, golf and good recreation.”

Smith believes the decrease in density will make increased traffic less of a concern for county officials and residents.

Mushock said there were about 90 Litchfield Racquet Club members when it closed, and most have joined either Wachesaw Plantation’s tennis club or the Waccamaw Regional Tennis Center at Stables Park, a public municipal facility that has been open about six years and is less than a mile from the Litchfield courts.

It has 10 public courts – eight hard courts and two clay courts – and there are several tennis clubs on the south end of the Grand Strand including DeBordieu Club, Wachesaw Plantation, Pawleys Plantation and Prestwick Country Club – though the offerings are much fewer than those in the fellow South Carolina coastal areas of Charleston and Hilton Head Island.

The Stables also has a disc golf course and soccer and lacrosse fields.

“It’s not like I’m taking tennis from people,” said Smith, who noted the Litchfield courts were closed when he initiated a purchase. “There are multiple tennis courts, there are multiple green spaces. The green space is there. . . . It’s not like I’m the grinch who stole tennis.”

Wimbledon Village LLC has already purchased property at Litchfield Country Club and sold it to Ameri Built Homes of Myrtle Beach, which has started construction on 14 housing units in duplexes north of the courts near the Litchfield CC entrance off Hawthorn Drive.

That land was already zoned for multifamily housing within the PD, so it only required review and approval by county staff.

Smith said he would likely contract with Ameri Built Homes for construction on the tennis courts as well.

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Alan Blondin covers golf, Coastal Carolina athletics and numerous other sports-related topics that warrant coverage. Well-versed in all things Myrtle Beach, Horry County and the Grand Strand, the Northeastern University journalism school valedictorian has been a sports reporter at The Sun News since 1993, earning eight top-10 Associated Press Sports Editors national writing awards and 18 top-three S.C. Press Association writing awards since 2007.