HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – The 20-year agreement that defined how Carolina Forest would develop will expire on December 9. WMBF News sat down with the people responsible for the original negotiations with International Paper and the person now in charge with making sure the plan is followed.
"In '97 we knew we were growing and growing fast," said former Horry County Councilwoman Liz Gilland. "There needed to be a plan between Conway and Myrtle Beach."
This GIF of Google Maps historical imagery from 1988 to 2016 shows just show fast this area was growing in the late 90s. (Source: Google Maps)
The chairman at the time, Chad Prosser, called the document a piece of work a long time in the making.
"It was the very first development agreement that the county had ever done with an international corporation and hundreds of acres of land," Gilland said. It was 7,073 acres to be exact.
"The majority of the county wasn't zoned when this development agreement was done," said David Schwerd, the deputy director for Horry County Planning and Zoning.
"Quite honestly, we were weak, we didn't know what we were doing," Gilland said, calling herself a county government rookie. "We were crafting an agreement that was going to give IP, International Paper, all of the advantage and very little for the county."
Gilland said the county was able to reposition itself after hiring Linda Angus as the new county administrator. She says Angus hired a consultant to redo the agreement.
"He had experience in other counties," Gilland said, "many of which had done numerous development agreements, and he came in and looked at ours and did a whole new scenario for us. We came back to the drawing table with a lot more demand."
The Carolina Forest Development Agreement passed its first of three Horry County Council votes May 20, 1997. It failed its second vote on October 21.
"We had that little hiccup," Gilland said. "Some of us probably though we needed more time and others had not gotten as much pressure from outsiders as they would later on to pass it because it was going to be passed by the big boys in the county."
A motion was made to reconsider the agreement before minutes were approved on November 18. The agreement then passed a second agreement and a third and final vote on December 2.
It got its approval on December 9, a signature from International Paper on January 19, 1998 and a signature from Angus February 3.
Dig Deeper: Click below to view a PDF of the full agreement document:
"We were able to produce a product and a plan that got that community off to a good start," said Prosser.
"The first goal was to get land for the roads that were going to be built," said Gilland. "We wanted to get the land free because that's always better for the taxpayers."
She said the land set aside for schools was a major breaking point as well. Ultimately, there was also land designated for EMS stations.
"I think that's one thing that lends itself to Carolina Forest having some harmony is the fact that infrastructure was planned from the beginning," Prosser said.
Dig Deeper - click below to view a PDF of a brochure from 1998 outlining the Carolina Forest master plan:
"Most of our developments are not large enough to be able to justify a single school, let alone being able to set aside an area for three or four schools or EMS stations," Schwerd said.
The plan also set aside spots for recreation and churches.
"It gave folks some assurance that there was a master plan and that the area would develop in a certain way," Prosser said.
The development plan doesn't come without issues that some say need a resolution.
"Carolina Forest has so much potential," said Carole vanSickler, the president of the Carolina Forest Civic Association. "It's changing a lot. We keep adding homes but we're not catching up with our roadways."
Carolina Forest Boulevard, and the traffic on the road, remains a problem area for people who live there.
"We tried to have them build four-lane the road out here," Gilland said. "Obviously, anyone can tell you it needed to be four-lane from day one, but IP absolutely said that they would not. That was almost the last hitching point, but the alternative at the time since they refused was to not have an agreement."
Gilland said International Paper didn't want to pay for a four-lane road. The company declined the request for an interview about this development agreement.
The issues don't stop with the main thoroughfare for Gilland.
"The other thing may have been, and I didn't realize at the time, having a large development with all your commercial at either end is not the best thing to do," she said. "Again, that was a rookie mistake by me. I didn't know to ask for that. I didn't know to make an objection there, but it seems like somebody in planning should have."
"That actually is some of the reason you have so much traffic at both ends is there's no outlet in the middle," Schwerd said. "I think, at most recent estimate, it was a little over $40 million to build the interchange, but it is in the long-range transportation plan."
One thing you don't see now in Carolina Forest: golf courses. There was room for six of them in the agreement.
"It probably would have surprised me on the front end of it," Gilland said. "But, as time progressed and golf courses began to sell, it didn't surprise me at all."
"The original idea was that it would be a walkable community, that there would be a lot of golf courses," Schwerd said. "Instead of built around lakes, they would be built around golf courses that had lakes. The golf course industry had a downturn in the early 2000's when the development was really starting to occur in Carolina Forest, so there was no demand for additional golf courses within the community."
There are also zero hotel rooms within the development agreement area.
"Originally it was 2,600 hotel rooms allotted for that, and we don't have any within the development agreement," Schwerd said, "and we haven't seen any plans for any within the development agreement."
The development agreement expires December 9.
"As far as land use goes, there won't be a significant change," Schwerd said. "In fact, when it expires, the regulations will be significantly increased."
He said things like landscaping rules and signage requirements are stricter than they were two decades ago.
"We pretty much know what will happen," he said.
It was almost Wake Forest. At least, that is what the man charged with naming Carolina Forest wanted to call it.
Don Leonard is a life trustee for the university in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He said he wasn't sure how the name would go over here in South Carolina, so he went with Carolina Forest.
He said he also like the idea of getting "Kingston" into the name but wanted to avoid confusion with what was already Kingston Plantation.
Leonard said he does wonder sometimes if phrases like "Carolina Forest High School" don't roll off the tongue very well.