On a 1,300-acre tract of land that was once home to a rice plantation in the Burgess area of Horry County, developers are planning a 706-acre project complete with thousands of homes and apartments, parks and new stores.
The land, known as the Bumgardner Tract and formerly home to what was called the Oregon Plantation, has been owned by two companies — The May Company and Bessle LLC — for several decades now and developers have submitted plans to the county for the major multi-use project.
And like other large developments, the plans have drawn concerns from nearby residents and county planners alike, who worry that building thousands of new homes in the area could over-burden infrastructure in the area, from roads to schools. To that end, a community meeting to discuss the project will be held Wednesday afternoon at the South Strand Recreation Center on Scipio Lane from 4 to 6 p.m.
The project’s land is located at the intersection of S.C. 707 and Salem Road, near St. James High School. The tract stretches South to the Blackmoor Golf Club and West to the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge. According to development plans submitted to Horry County, developers plan to build 552,000 square fee — about 13 acres — of commercial space along S.C. 707 and Salem Road, several apartments behind the commercial space, and single family homes behind the apartments. Approximately 130 acres of open space, including parks, community amenities and sports courts would be sprinkled throughout.
The plans call for 2,282 single-family homes and 1,590 apartments which, along with the commercial space, would be built on 672 acres of the property. The remaining 34 acres is wetlands, as is the majority of the other half of the Bumgardner Tract. Together, the homes and apartments would create a density of more than five “dwelling units” per acre, and the developers are seeking a rezoning to allow for such a dense development.
The land owners, which have contracted the engineering firm Thomas & Hutton to develop the project, are asking county leaders to rezone the land from CFA (Commercial Forest Agriculture, a designation common in once-rural parts of the county) to a Planned Development District (PDD), which outlines specifics for density and how the project will look. PDD’s are unique in that they allow residents and county leaders to request specific amenities, aesthetics and other building considerations from the developers. The PDD developers are seeking in this case would include a number of different zonings and uses as currently outlined and would have to comply with pre-existing area plans and overlays in the Burgess area that residents and county leaders put in place several years ago.
Aside from the new homes and shopping areas, the drafted development agreement outlines that amenities like pools, clubhouses, sports courts, trails, pocket parks, community gardens, dog parks, a community recycling facility, a marina, and RV and Boat storage could all be included in the project for residents who live there.
At a preliminary hearing for the project on Thursday, residents, along with several members of the county Planning Commission, expressed concerns about a project of that size in the Burgess area, with some cautioning that county leaders shouldn’t rush approving the plans.
“We are asking that this vote not be rushed and that every issue is researched and answered instead of rushing to finalize this decision,” said nearby resident Brenda Cristillo, who spoke at Thursday’s meeting. “The surrounding communities and taxpayers deserve better. The final vote needs to be postponed for a few months.”
The developers deferred an initial vote from the Planning Commission on the project until after Wednesday’s community meeting. That means the Planning Commission will hear the project again at its January meeting before it receives three readings, including a public hearing, before County Council. Late February would be the earliest the project could win full approval, though some county leaders hope to delay it further to allow for more time for debate.
“I feel like this application has been sent to us all too prematurely,” Planning Commissioner Pam Dawson, who represents the Burgess area, said Thursday.
Planning Commissioner Chuck Rhome agreed: “I think we, in all honesty, as commissioners, deserve a lot more information than what’s on that yellow card.”
Despite initial concerns about the project, Walter Warren, one of the developers with Thomas & Hutton, said the builders and land owners wanted to be “good neighbors.”
“In putting together this plan, we went through the entire Burgess plan, and said, ‘Alright, what is the vision here? What did the Burgess community want to see happen in Burgess, of which this project is a major component of?’” he said. “We’ll be good neighbors. We want to be a good project.”
Karen Horton, who’s listed on county records as an agent for the landowners, declined to comment on Tuesday.
Dawson said Tuesday that she’s looking for more information about how the county will handle the infrastructure needs brought on by the project, and how the developer’s timeline might compare to the county’s timeline. Plans, for example, show the fully built project would add 43,000 car trips daily to S.C. 707, pushing the highway’s capacity to 65%. And the nearby St. James schools, elementary, intermediate and high school, are all currently over, or nearing, capacity. The nearest fire station is four miles away.
“It is such a magnitude that we need to very deliberately look at the impacts to infrastructure,” Dawson said.
Garden City resident Kathy Jellison agreed, and said infrastructure should come ahead of thousands of new homes.
“I think they have to develop responsibly, that they have to do the infrastructure first,” she said. “They need to have more green space...(they need) more single family homes, more spacious lots. The lots they’re proposing are way too small.”
Jellison also said she worried about the effects of “clear cutting” acres of trees on the property, a sentiment other residents echoed who said they worried that mass building on the land could make flooding worse in surrounding neighborhoods.
“All of Horry County’s flooding. We’ve got a problem in this county. It is not smart for us to keep putting up homes,” said Gloria Lance, who spoke at Thursday’s meeting.
The proposed development agreement notes that the developers will build the roads and sidewalks inside the project, and connect them to existing roads, but makes no mention of infrastructure contributions the developer would make outside of the project. The development would have two access roads onto S.C. 707 and another onto Freewoods Road. A portion of the development would have access onto Salem Road as well.
Al Jordan, the president of the Greater Burgess Community Association, said his organization isn’t taking a stance on the project yet, and was continuing to study the proposed design agreement. He said he and others in the community who have been involved in development issues suspected that the two large tracts of land in Burgess, one being the Bumgardner Tract, would eventually be developed, so he wasn’t surprised by the project.
“I have a feeling that there are issues in this thing we haven’t run across yet and we want to discover what those are and what peoples feelings are before we go any further,” he said.
Jordan said he had heard residents’ concerns about traffic and the need for additional infrastructure, and said the PDD framework the developers are seeking could give residents leverage to win considerations. But, he added, even if a development agreement falls through, the builders can still develop the land under its current zoning, which could be similar, though less dense.
“You do have some negotiating leverage if you can guide, shape the plan into something more desirable over something less desirable,” he said. “But we are concerned that most people have come to the conclusion that if this rezoning is denied the land will stay as it is forever, and don’t understand that there’s an alternative.”
He added that the sheer size of the project likely set off alarm bells for residents, and raised many questions that he hopes will be addressed at Wednesday’s meeting.
“I think the top two (concerns) are more people and the traffic,” he said. “I think the number of new homes was stunning to people and most people formed their opinion on that basis alone. I think it was just, ‘Holy mackerel.’”