GEORGETOWN — Close to 100 residents of a gated, country club community groaned with dismay and cursed April 15 when the planning commission voted for a low-income apartment complex close to their subdivision.
One resident of Wedgefield Plantation demanded to know when the topic would be discussed with Georgetown County Council. Planning director Holly Richardson quickly pulled out her phone and said it will be discussed further May 11.
The woman then sternly said she and her husband would be there before storming out of the Howard Center auditorium.
Georgetown Memorial Hospital originally bought the 64 acres off Wedgefield Road and North Fraser Street in 2008 to build a medical facility, but the project fell through.
Now, the hospital is looking to sell 16 acres of it to Foursix Housing and Blue Line development, but the sale depends upon a change in land use rules. This change in rules is what the commission recommended for council approval April 15, and the topic will now move to county council over its next several meetings.
Resident Tom Olejniczak said he and his family recently bought a plot of land in Wedgefield, and were planning on building a home. Its always been a dream of his to live in Wedgefield, he said.
"I remember driving in Wedgefield for the very first time and thinking 'Wow, this is really pretty back here, I like this,'" Olejniczack said.
He told planning commission, though, that if the development is built, he and his family will not move forward with the build.
Georgetown County is in dire need of affordable housing, though, according to a recent study of the county conducted by Bowen National Research.
Based on the most recent census data, the average household income in Georgetown was just above $48,000 per year, making affordable rent in the county no more than $1,200 a month, or 30 percent of income. According to the county, average monthly rent in the county is between $1,000 and $1,500.
The proposed apartments would be restricted to families with low income — a family of four, for example, could make no more than $38,700 a year if they wanted to live there, based on median household income in the county.
Tony Cates with Foursix said rent at the 90 proposed units would be between $400 and $975, depending on the income of the residents and how many bedrooms are in a unit. The development would have units ranging from one to four bedrooms, but exact counts for how many units of each are not yet available.
This lack of specificity is the a main point of contention for residents of Wedgefield. Cates said he and Blue Line only have very general plans for the development because land use changes only require general plans — once the land use rule is changed, the developer will then be required to have more specifics on the project plans, such as exactly how many one, two, three and four bedroom units there will be and their designs and layouts.
If the land use rule is changed, Foursix and Blue Line will have to go through the same process of getting recommendations from planning commission and approval from council for the specific plans for the development.
"Exactly what we are going through now, we will replicate. We will have all the details at that point because we will be asking for a plan amendment, not just a use amendment," Cates said.
On April 12, Foursix and Blue Line held a community meeting with Wedgefield residents where Cates said he explained the current plans they have to dispel misinformation that he said had been circulating.
Cates told residents at this meeting Foursix and Blue Line would work with the community on the design of the development to ensure minimal impact, and residents expressed concerns over how it would be funded.
"We get a tax credit from the state of South Carolina of which we sell to a corporation," Cates said. "We don't make money from the tax credit, the tax credit is the instrument that finances it, it is not a way that we make money."
Cates said he thinks the residents' issues with the development are rooted in negative view of people who would be living in the development.
"In my opinion, (residents) did not come for information, they came to voice an opinion, and that's fine, everybody has an opinion," Cates said. "It's the individuals that will be living in the units that people have an issue with, its their perceived opinion of crime and property values that a person making an honest person's wage will bring, and that's just not true."
Residents of Wedgefield cited traffic and property value concerns April 15 as other reasons they were against the development.
In 2008, a traffic study was done to accompany the hospital's purchase of the land, and that study recommended adding two coordinating stoplights: one at Wedgefield Road and 701, and another at 701 and 51.
Since 2008, the population in the area has grown substantially, and residents said they worried adding more people to the area would only add more traffic.
As far as Wedgefield Plantation property value, the county's director of economic development, Brian Tucker, said the administration and the planning commission do not believe the apartments will adversely impact that.
"It is our belief that this is a quality project that will bring housing to the county that we need," Tucker said.
A few residents echoed that while they are for affordable housing options in Georgetown County, they do not think the best spot for one is by Wedgefield Plantation.
"Why should the tax payers and residents of Wedgefield, Windsor and other surrounding people in the area pay for the bad mistakes that the hospital made in purchasing this property?" resident Miki Nadeau said.