By Paul Gable
Horry County Council’s decision to not amend its supplemental flood zone regulations did not settle the issue that caused an amendment to be considered in the first place.
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.
The developer immediately filed an appeal in district court. According to the council members who spoke with GSD, Carotti recommended to council that the county hire two attorneys, one to represent county council and one to represent the Construction Board of Adjustment and Appeals and let them resolve the issue in court.
This idea was quickly dispatched by council as a waste of taxpayer money. Instead, a mediation session between the county and the developer came to an agreement to amend the requirements in the flood ordinance to two feet above FEMA levels rather than three feet. Council voted that amendment down last week.
During this process, misinformation found its way into local media with alleged experts saying the county could possibly lose its right to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program or, possibly, experience a significant increase in flood insurance premiums.
Council heard from FEMA that neither was true. Possibly at stake were certain insurance discounts that FEMA awards for exceeding FEMA requirements, but building at the original level, before the new county ordinance, would not hamper homeowners from obtaining flood insurance if they so desired.
The above synopsis of events fails to answer a main question – why did the county initially confirm to the developer that the project would be grandfathered into requirements prior to the passage of the new flood ordinance?
Why did county staff find it necessary to interfere with a decision of a duly constituted board of the county without prior approval of county council?
Why would the county recommend hiring two attorneys to oppose each other in court?
And, why was the entire flood ordinance considered for amendment when only the height of this 46-lot development was at issue?
This has all the appearances of county staff trying to cover itself for its contradictory positions taken during the process.