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Say “NO” to Wetlands Development

Public Meeting soliciting community comments on the proposed Conway Medical Center on International Drive

Tuesday, May 11th at 6pm

Carolina Forest Recreation Center (2254 Carolina Forest Blvd in Myrtle Beach)

The meeting is hosted by Horry County Planning staff who will compile comments to pass on to the Planning Commission.

Your input is important! Please join us to ensure your comments are heard!

Some important points:

  • The proposed project is an inpatient medical facility located off International Drive opposite the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve
  • The request is to approve the rezoning, future land use amendment, and Development Agreement for PIN# 396-00-00-0001 approximately 353.62 acres from General Residential (GR) to Inpatient Medical Services (ME1) to create a medical campus
  • The proposed project parcel is mostly wetlands and there is no way not to impact them
  • Horry County’s comprehensive plan designates this parcel as Scenic & Conservation
  • SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), the agency that manages the Heritage Preserve, has concerns about the project due to the need for prescribed burns and the potential for forest fires

In January 2021, our Waccamaw Riverkeeper submitted comments and spoke at the meeting in opposition to the proposal, stating:

On behalf of Winyah Rivers Alliance, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, and the below signed* conservation organizations and concerned members of the public, I respectfully request that Horry County deny rezoning of this parcel as well as the associated requested change to the Comprehensive Plan. Located adjacent to both the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve and the Independent Republic Heritage Preserve, the parcel should only be rezoned for land uses deemed appropriate under its Scenic & Conservation designation in the county’s future land use plan, Imagine 2040.” *Signatories included Pee Dee Land Trust, Carolina Wetlands Association, Ducks Unlimited, Waccamaw Audubon Society, American Rivers and local community members

Our concerns:

The parcel proposed for rezoning and subsequent development has been identified by both Horry County and our organizations as an area that is critical to preserving the values of the Waccamaw River watershed, including expanding recreational access, sustaining the rich ecological heritage of the area, protecting clean drinking water and reducing loss of life and property caused by problematic flooding. Protecting clean water in the Waccamaw River begins with protecting the lands within its watershed

A large portion of the area surrounding the proposed rezoning is already conserved. The Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve, declared a Wetland Treasure by the Carolina Wetlands Association in 2018, and the newly protected wetlands mitigation bank of the Independent Republic Heritage Preserve border the parcel. These areas connect Carolina Bays, pine savannas, wetlands, and swamps to the Waccamaw River. Unique to the area, these ecosystems have been identified by South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources for protection. The habitats are home to a variety of plant and animal species, some of which are federally protected. The Venus Flytrap, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and Black Bear are perhaps the most well-known of the important species living in these protected areas, but there are many more that rely on these habitats for survival. 

More than 60% of the parcel proposed for rezoning is wetlands which are not isolated to one area, but streak across the parcel. During the October 29th Planning Commission Workshop, Chairman Neeves questioned the potential for development of the parcel stating, “Everyone is looking at the wetlands asking how in the world are you going to build there?” It would be impossible to develop the parcel without causing significant impacts to the on-site and adjacent existing wetlands.

The proposed plan for the Conway Medical Center Carolina Forest attempts to avoid direct impacts to the wetlands, but will still cause impacts. The construction requires a bridge over wetlands and is bordered on all sides by wetlands. Though not built directly on the wetlands, the construction of the medical center will impact the wetlands around it by increasing the amount of impervious surfaces in their drainage area. There is no possible location for the center on the parcel that will not impact the wetlands.

The existing wetlands no doubt played a role in the county determining this as Scenic & Conservation in the Imagine 2040 Future Land Use Maps. Scenic & Conservation Areas are “(e)nvironmentally sensitive and scenic areas, such as Carolina Bays, estuarine and forested wetlands, undeveloped beachfront, forestlands, floodplains, agricultural lands, and natural recreational and open spaces…These areas are important for the ecosystem services (flood control, stormwater filtration, clean air), educational and research opportunities, and for nature-based recreation. Many of these areas are either flood or wildfire prone, so development within and adjacent to these areas should take these hazards into consideration.

Primary Land Uses identified for Scenic & Conservation Areas are: Open space, nature-based recreation, timberland, agriculture and agricultural/forestry support uses. There is no better use for wetlands than to remain ecologically functioning wetlands. 

Wetlands and swamps on and around the proposed parcel drain into the Waccamaw River, eventually crossing Highway 90. The Highway 90 corridor, which crosses Sterritt Swamp, Jones Big Swamp, and Tilly Swamp has experienced rapid development in recent years.   Increased impervious surfaces have led to stormwater issues causing flooding and cutting off communities from the surrounding area. As development along the corridor continues, the importance of wetlands has become more apparent. Wetlands store and slow the spread of floodwaters to surrounding areas. Protection of the parcel provides a nature-based solution for alleviating the persistent flooding issues already occurring along the corridor. 

The natural functions of pine savannas and wetlands that  mitigate flooding also protect clean water. These lands reduce and filter contaminants from stormwater which preserves  clean water in the Waccamaw, on which 400,000 people rely for drinking water. Without these natural safeguards, increased pollution from runoff would raise treatment costs for our water treatment facilities — costs which would be passed on to ratepayers.  Protecting clean water starts on land. Protecting the natural landscapes of our watershed will help to reduce flood risk and protect clean, affordable water for local residents.

South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources has already expressed their concern over this potential rezoning. In addition to our concerns stated above, we share their concerns regarding loss of fire dependent species, habitats, and increased wildfire risk, due to constraints this rezoning will cause on controlled burn applications. Development along the International Drive corridor has the strong potential to be cut off by fire and flooding, both of which are natural occurrences in the area

The bottom line:

The County made an informed decision, based upon community input, when designating this area as Scenic & Conservation in Imagine 2040.

We urge our elected officials to uphold that decision and not to rezone the parcel.

Future Timeline:

  • Rezoning (Ordinance 17-2021, Rezoning Request #2020-10-003) – Planning Commission will make a recommendation to Horry County Council then three readings with the first reading likely in June;
  • Future Land Use Amendment (Ordinance 16-2021, Future Land Use Amendment PC 2020-5) – this is moving jointly with the rezoning request;
  • Development Agreement – two readings at Planning Commission (likely to be voted on at the June 3rd and July 8th meetings) then on to County Council, potentially at the Aug/Sept meeting coincident with the final readings of the rezoning and land use amendments.
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Winyah Rivers Alliance

P.O. Box 554 | 301 Allied Drive
Conway, SC 29528
843 .349 .4007
winyahrivers@winyahrivers.org

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