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Homebuilder: We’re America’s foundation and central to the Grand Strand economy

Opinion submitted by Benjy Hardee, President and Chief Executive Officer of A.O. Hardee & Son, Inc., based on his statement to the Horry County Council at the Sept. 17 public hearing on Imagine 2040, the county’s comprehensive planning guide for future growth and development.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Horry County Council, thank you for the opportunity to address this very important proposed 2040 comprehensive plan to guarantee we meet the current and future needs of the people of Horry County.

I have been told that under existing law, the county council cannot make amendments to the Planning Commission’s proposal.  

If this is the case, which I cannot understand, something needs to be done to allow council to make needed changes because you’re the officials who were elected to represent and protect county residents.

 Such an important plan should not be left to the decision of appointed or hired individuals.

I’ve heard all of you say at one time or another that, “jobs, jobs, jobs,” are your top priorities, and I agree.

I also believe we can agree our growing construction and development industry is one of our top industries that needs to be cultivated, not discouraged.  

We are the foundation industry of America — nothing is built until we put the spade into the ground. And we all support good planning and zoning.   

But many decisions made by those involved in the development of the 2040 plan were discretionary as to where zoning lines are drawn, and whether a piece of property will be designated “scenic and conservation”  or rural versus suburban communities.

The final decision as to where each zone begins and ends should not be left to paid staff or appointed members of the Planning Commission.  

Zoning is not a science.

There are no magic pencils or pens that can determine where one zone should end and another begins.

It’s up to the Horry County Council to draw zoning boundaries. You are the policy makers. You are the elected officials. 

The Planning Commission and staff, as well intentioned as they are, should not have the final say where zoning lines are drawn.  

You, the elected representatives of we the people, need to protect our property rights.  

I urge you to make appropriate amendments to the 2040 plan to ensure the elected county council has the flexibility to adjust zoning lines without a lot of bureaucratic red tape.  

We also need guarantees the rezoning process does not become yet another mechanism for those who wish to unnecessarily restrict or eliminate growth by forcing applicants to spend tens of thousands of dollars to design projects before the property is even rezoned.

Please guarantee the rezoning process does not become a mechanism to force an applicant to jump through all kinds of bureaucratic hoops and pay exorbitant application fees that discourages an applicant from even applying for rezoning. 

The qualified planning staff has other tools to be sure projects are done in a manner to protect the best interest of the public.  

The bureaucracy should not be allowed to create unnecessary hurdles designed to stop or discourage growth or make it impossible to make affordable housing available to the public or allow the property owners to develop their property.

Property owners deserve the right to request and receive reasonable consideration to rezone their property, and the 2040 plan needs to be amended to allow this.

Please do not underestimate the tremendous positive economic impact or the ripple effect of the $4 billion development and construction industry.  

When the spade goes in the ground, the dollars spent by this industry goes from one business to another and stimulates every aspect of the community, and provides thousands of jobs. 

These are your neighbors who go to work before daybreak and don’t return home until after dark. 

They are the unheard, because they are not at every council meeting complaining and contesting projects. They are the working women and men of our county, and many I see here tonight. 

This 2040 plan will take hostage of thousands of acres, potentially devaluing generationally-held properties. 

Many families have held onto their family farms for generations, but they cannot make a living farming like their ancestors did. 

Now, potential growth is approaching their properties and increasing its values. Families finally have a chance to sell their property for a decent sum of money. 

However, that may not occur if this 2040 Plan is adopted.

I ask council to delay passing the 2040 plan and hold a workshop for stakeholders to come up with a proposal that will not negatively impact our county or economy.

I know some people say this has already been done, but the truth of the matter is, many people were not paying attention and have been caught off guard. Many are here in this room tonight. 

Thank you for your service, and for allowing me to speak tonight. I look forward to working with you in an effort to make the 2040 plan one that makes sense for all in our community.