Below the Radar with the Santee Cooper/Grand Strand Humane Society Land Deal

By Paul Gable

After the Grand Strand Humane Society withdrew a rezoning request for a plot of land off River Oaks Drive in Carolina Forest last June, due to strong opposition from neighborhood residents, its search for a new plot of land on which to locate its proposed new animal shelter complex went under the radar until it could be presented as a fait accompli.

As noted in a January 12, 2024, letter from Waterside Drive resident Rose Marie Johnson to Santee Cooper, after the withdrawal of the rezoning request, “County Council made a clear statement to the (humane) society that they should not try to place their Dog Pound close to a residential location.”

Early on, Santee Cooper executives were involved in the search for a new location for the animal shelter. According to documents received through Freedom of Information Act requests, on June 20, 2023, Santee Cooper Board of Directors Vice Chairman and Horry County seat appointee David Singleton contacted Santee Cooper Senior Director of Real Estate Dan Camp questioning whether Santee Cooper had “8-10 acres near Myrtle Beach that could be used for the humane society.”

The next day, Camp emailed Santee Cooper Chief Power Supply Officer Marty Watson to apprise him of the Singleton conversation. Camp told Singleton he (Camp) and Watson had briefly discussed the matter on June 20, 2023, and Camp and Watson would “see what was available.”

A July 5, 2023, email from Camp to Watson informed that Singleton had called Camp following up on “potential options  in Myrtle Beach on Santee Cooper owned property for the Horry County Humane Society to site a building/shelter.” Camp told Singleton there were only a couple of locations of the size needed but they were “the generation station and the warehouse which are key operational assets actively used and therefore did not appear to be good options.”

However, the President of the Grand Strand Humane Society soon brought to Singleton’s attention the turbine site. An August 28, 2023, from Singleton to the humane society president reads in part, “This is the site you brought to my attention a couple of weeks ago.”  The email goes on to say 8 acres of the site could be parted with by Santee Cooper subject to staff and Board of Directors final review. The site is zoned LI (Limited Industrial) which Singleton said he believed would allow the shelter use but cautions the president to “check this out with Horry County “(do this below the radar).”

Singleton included negatives for the site as “proximity to housing on one side and noise from the turbines on the other side and states Santee Cooper management and Board of Directors “may be concerned re fallout from the neighbors.”

Prior to sending this email, Singleton was informed in a August 28, 2023, email from Watson that Watson’s two main concerns were proximity to housing and proximity to turbines. Watson states when the turbines are turned on their noise increases the likelihood of rousing or startling the animals.

A September 5, 2023, email from the humane society president to Singleton documents the request from the humane society to Santee Cooper for the turbine parcel.

The turbine parcel is adjacent to the Waterside Drive neighborhood, seemingly in direct conflict with county council’s stated desire not to place the Dog Pound near a residential neighborhood.

Now curious things begin to happen. On August 28th the humane society president was advised to approach Horry County (under the radar) about whether an animal shelter would be an allowed use in LI zoning.

At the September 7, 2023, meeting of the Horry County Planning Commission, a county staff member from the Planning and Zoning Department presents to the commission members a text amendment to allow Outdoor Storage as a stand alone conditional use in the  LI zoning classification. The amendment, very general in its wording, is passed along to county council as proposed Ordinance 123-2023.

The ordinance was passed through three readings of county council with no discussion among council members or council and staff, which is not uncommon on ordinances pertaining to text amendments to zoning classifications. Third and final reading occurred at the December 12, 2023, meeting of county council

The timing between checking on whether the shelter could be located on LI zoned land, after August 28. 2023, and the introduction of the text amendment to the Planning Commission at its September 7, 2023, meeting, suggests someone on county staff, probably initially in the Planning and Zoning Department, determined stand alone Outdoor Storage needed to be added as a conditional use in LI for the animal shelter to be a conforming use.

On November 1, 2023, county staff provided a letter to be forwarded to Santee Cooper stating the animal shelter was allowed in the LI zoning district. By this time, staff must have known of the specific parcel designated for the animal shelter and that this parcel was in conflict with the stated intentions of county council to keep the shelter away from neighborhoods.

At its November 14, 2023, meeting, county council passed a generally worded resolution supporting the donation of land by Santee Cooper to the Grand Strand Humane Society. Again, no mention in the resolution, or by staff to council, of the specific location of the proposed animal shelter property relative to the Waterside Drive neighborhood. The resolution was forwarded to Santee Cooper.

At the December 4, 2023, meeting of the Santee Cooper Water Services and Resource Management Committee, the committee approved a gratis lease for the turbine property with the Horry County Humane Society and unanimously adopted resolutions to seek approval from the South Carolina Joint Bond Review Committee for transfer of the property.

The Waterside Drive community only became aware of the incursion of an animal shelter on their neighborhood when a press release was issued December 5, 2023, announcing the lease approval.

Members of the community showed up at the January 2, 2024, meeting of Horry County Council to criticize the resolution of support council had passed two months prior. Council member Bill Howard offered a motion to rescind the November 14, 2023, resolution. The motion passed unanimously with discussion among council members revealing they were unaware of the location of the land proposed for the animal shelter and again voicing negative comments about the close proximity of the proposed shelter to a residential neighborhood.

The Joint Bond Review Committee approved the gratis lease on the turbine parcel between Santee Cooper and the humane society at its March 20, 2024, meeting.

As of this writing, the location of the animal shelter on the turbine parcel appears to be a done deal despite the stated position of county council on not locating the animal shelter near residential neighborhoods.

Why did county staff fail to inform council about the proposed location of the animal shelter prior to council consideration of the November 14th resolution?

Someone from county staff had to know the proposed location of the animal shelter between August 28th and September 7th when the county staff was approached by the humane society on whether the animal shelter was a conforming use in LI zoning. Why was it kept secret from council members?

Why was the text amendment allowing stand alone storage in LI zoning accomplished so “under the radar” and who on county staff wrote Ordinance 123-2023?  

How was a letter provided by county staff on November 1st stating the shelter was okay in LI zoning when the text amendment ordinance had only passed one reading by council at that time?

Answers should be provided to Waterside Drive residents about how and why an animal shelter will be located very near their neighborhood against the express wishes of county council members.

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