By Paul Gable
Horry County Council will again consider amending its flood ordinance with a view to reducing the height for building in the county’s designated supplemental flood zones from the current three board height to a two board height.
County staff and the county Infrastructure and Regulation Committee recommended the two board height in the original ordinance, but council bent to the will of group of citizens demanding the three board height, apparently in an excess of caution against the next flood.
The amendment would apply only to county designated supplemental flood zones, not to FEMA designated flood zones. The county added supplemental flood zones after the Hurricane Florence flooding events in 2018.
At the center of the issue is a plot of land sub-divided into 46 lots for development off of Hwy 905. The land was prepared for development in accordance with FEMA requirements.
Then, Horry County Council passed a new flood ordinance establishing flood zones supplemental to the FEMA maps and requiring homes in those areas to be built a further three feet above FEMA required levels.
Initially, the developers were assured by county staff members that the 46-lot project would be grandfathered to the requirements before the new flood ordinance was passed. Then, according to sources familiar with the issue, county staff reversed its position and said the new supplemental flood zone requirements would have to be met by this project.
Great Southern Homes, the developer of the land, immediately appealed the latest version from county staff to the Horry County Construction Board of Adjustment and Appeals. The county board found in favor of the developer, granting the appeal.
According to several members of county council, it was at this point that county attorney Arrigo Carotti got into the act. A special meeting of the construction appeals board was convened during which an executive session of over an hour had the board members hearing from Carotti. After the executive session, the board voted to rescind its vote granting the appeal but did not take another vote on the appeal itself.
A mediation session between the county and the developer came to an agreement to amend the requirements in the flood ordinance to two boards above FEMA levels rather than three boards. Council voted 6-6 to defeat the amendment at its regular meeting November 1, 2022.
At a meeting of the Construction Board of Adjustment and Appeals several weeks ago, the board again considered the appeal by the developer and voted unanimously to grant the appeal. During its regular meeting last week, county council voted unanimously to grant authority to the county administrator to appeal the board decision to Circuit Court.
According to council members speaking on conditions of anonymity, the developer is free to go forward with construction at the original height approved before the county flood ordinance went into effect. However, according to those members, the developer is willing to abide by two board level agreed at in mediation if the county flood ordinance is amended to a height of two boards.
If council approves the amendment, it would be a win-win for everyone. The height in the supplemental flood zone would still be high enough to gain some rate reduction in FEMA flood insurance. The county would have in effect a supplemental flood zone approximately two feet above the level of flooding experienced in the supplemental zones in 2018.
Most important, however, the county would not be in a position of effectively suing itself. If the county appeal of the construction board of appeals latest decision goes forward in Circuit Court, the county would be paying for attorneys for both sides because the board is legally appointed by county council. This would not only be absurd, but also a waste of considerable taxpayer dollars.
I submit any council member who votes against the amendment is voting in his or her own selfish interest. Next week’s vote will determine who votes in order to help their individual reelection chances, a no vote on the amendment, and who votes in the best interests of the county, a yes vote.