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County council moves to protect wetlands and guard against future flooding

Horry County is considering new rules to protect wetlands and prevent future flooding in rural areas near Conway by changing zoning rules that calculate density.

Councilman Harold Worley asked planning staff during Tuesday’s council meeting to move forward with a proposal that’s been in the works for months to adjust the rules for areas currently zoned as CFA for development of commercial, forest, agriculture, and low-density residential lands.

“That’s something we’ve looked at and talked about,” Worley said. “It’s about time we did that.”

David Schwerd, director of Horry County Planning and Zoning, said that removing wetlands from the equation when determining density means a lower number of housing units would be allowed in areas currently zoned as CFA.

It also means less pervious surfaces, allowing for rain to soak up naturally into protected wetlands and river areas.

For example, Schwerd said 50% of the property must have impervious surfaces. 

So, if a landowner wants to develop their property and 50% of it is wetlands, they could conceivably count the wetlands as their pervious surfaces and develop the rest of the property. 

Under the proposed rewritten CFA zoning, wetlands would be excluded from the total equation and only the uplands counted as potential development.

Wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act and cannot be filled and developed upon in South Carolina without state and federal approvals and permits.

“It will ensure you’re not increasing density above and beyond what would normally be allowed adjacent to wetlands,” Schwerd said.

April O’Leary with Horry County Rising presented a petition with 250 signatures to council asking that CFA zoning be abolished altogether.

O’Leary cited concerns the zoning allows for multi-family uses, and she believes there is no market for condos or apartments in those areas.

The county first created and zoned rural areas along the Highway 90 corridor and south of Conway as CFA in 2001 and limited land density for commercial and residential areas.

Asked how the county could proceed if CFA zoning were eliminated altogether, Schwerd described an exhaustive and time-consuming task.

“If we got rid of it, we would have to examine every single piece of property — thousands of parcels — to determine its current use. We would have to notify every property owner and meet with them to get an agreement for new zoning,” Schwerd said.

“It’s quite challenging. It would be a very difficult task,” Schwerd said.

The best option to further reduce density and guard against future flooding, is to take wetlands off the table, he said.

County council agreed unanimously to removing the wetlands clause, and will consider the proposed ordinance at their next meeting.