Study: Housing plans would only handle 44 percent of Horry County projected growth

Grand Strand

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Horry County is home to more than 330,000 people, and it’s no mystery more people are moving to the coastal county by the day.

Should Horry County’s projections in its Imagine 2040 plan pan out, its population could grow by 275,000 people by 2040 — leaving some to wonder if the area can handle the growth.

To satisfy the growth, the county estimates it will need upwards of 116,160 additional housing units. Developments currently under construction, and others with preliminary approval in unincorporated Horry County, will only be able to accommodate 45 percent of the projected growth through the entire county through 2040, according to the county’s proposed Imagine 2040 plan.

Since the 2013-2014 fiscal year, building permit requests in unincorporated areas of Horry County have nearly doubled, growing from 1,889 requests to 3,304 requests in the 2017-2018 fiscal year. There has also been a recent increase in rezoning requests for new, major subdivisions. Single-family building permit numbers also have increased in areas like North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, according to statistics obtained by News13.

While there is a steady demand for new home construction, a recent published report from the Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors showed that 16,553 properties closed in Horry and Georgetown Counties in 2018, combining for $3.5 billion in sold volume. Local realtors tell News13 the market is at a “neutral point” for both buyers and sellers.

It leaves the question to ask local leaders and market experts: Is Horry County growing too fast, too soon, and should it attempt to manage future growth?

“Starting in the 1970s, the population’s been doubling every couple decades – so it’s not a new phenomenon. I’m sure the residents in 1985 were saying the same thing that they were saying in 2015 and 2019, ‘There’s too many people here. Let’s close the gates behind us.’ That’s currently not the plan,” Horry County Interim Planning Director David Schwerd said. “The population is coming. The question is: What kind of housing are they going to live in? Where are they going to live and how is it going to impact the quality of life of the existing residents?”

Schwerd says planning for the projected population boom is an extremely delicate balance. While the county can’t stop the growth, Schwerd says it’s important the county can accommodate it through infrastructure and services — including schools, public safety, transportation and roads.

A future use land map will help guide the county’s rezoning and help identify areas that need to be protected, along with areas that shouldn’t be developed until infrastructure is installed or where development should occur.

“If you can maintain those things, it’ll probably lead to more growth and housing units than if you don’t do a good job maintaining it over the next 10 years, the less people will find it a desirable place to live and people won’t relocate here,” he explained.

So where are the areas expected to see an influx in new residents over the next 20 years? Below is a map of population projections by the county census division:

The county specifically notes in its Imagine 2040 plan that the needs of residents be monitored and predicted in the Burgess, Forestbrook, Socastee, Carolina Forest and Little River areas.”It’s not unexpected to be honest,” Schwerd admitted. “Think about Horry County. It’s the same reason we’re all here. It’s the quality of life. There’s so many things to do.”

The Imagine 2040 plan, which will be used as a guiding document for growth in Horry County, also identifies areas where growth should be cautioned.

“Imagine 2040 has identified those areas where the residents have identified, as well as the planning commission, where they don’t want to see growth. Those areas are shown as rural and they’re typically in the western parts of the county. Part of that is because of the lack of infrastructure in those areas. Part of it is because the residents in those areas have identified they want to remain a rural quality of life and part of it is because we want to maintain our agricultural nature that we have in Horry County.”

We also took the issue of growth to the Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors to get its take on it.

“We’re continuing to see a modest growth in the community. All indications show we are – or are going to be – the second fastest MSA in the country. That being said, that doesn’t mean they’re all coming tomorrow. That means they’ll be coming over the next few years. I think the way that we’re growing, the way that people are coming into the market, we currently have inventory to satisfy their needs, but yet we’re also seeing a nice, steady growth of new construction,” Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors CEO Laura Crowther explained.

Chances are you are noticing more tracts of land getting cleared for community development and more homes getting built by the day. However, not all projects currently in the works in Horry County are new on the books. County officials tell News13 some of them are phases being built out that were put on hold from the recession.

Crowther says the recession taught local, regional and national developers a very important lesson. While it may appear homes are going up left and right, Crowther says developers are building out communities in much smaller portions.

“I think a lot of people learned their lesson sin the mid to early 2000s with the housing bubble we experienced. People are not willing to put themselves on the line and I do think they’re beginning to pay closer attention to the market trends and what the demand is. Demand drives the market and if the demand is not there, the homes are not going to be built. The builders have learned that the market trends are what to follow and are making better, smarter choices when it comes to developing our precious resources around here – which is our land,” Crowther said.

Crowther applauds the effort by Horry County to identify its strengths and weaknesses in the Imagine 2040 plan.

“I caution people to really make sure they look at positive growth in an objective manner and know that county officials are taking a long, hard look at this and making sure that we have the proper growth plans in place,” she explained.

Crowther thinks the county should tread lightly on ideas to try to manage growth – citing unintended consequences felt by areas that tried to do it, including Mount Pleasant and York County. She says in those areas, a desire to slow growth has led to “initiatives on the books that have really slowed growth and in turn is creating a shortfall in county government.”

“At that point when there’s a shortfall, where do they get the money? That’s from the existing taxpayers. We don’t want to do anything that’ll create unintended consequences and shift a tax burden to our current residents,” she noted. “We want to make sure we make good, sound decisions that are going to support our existing residents and our newcomers. We always want to have open arms to welcome people to our community.”

You can view Horry County’s current Imagine 2040 plan here.

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