Developers, I-73 and a Déjà Vu Lazarus Candidacy

By Paul Gable

Recently Horry County Council unanimously approved changes to development density allowed in the Commercial Forest Agriculture zoning classification and former county chairman Mark Lazarus began calling developers looking for support for another run at county chairman.

Lazarus, then the incumbent, lost the 2018 county chairman race to Johnny Gardner in what was one of the biggest upsets in Horry County political history. And he lost it on his own merits, or maybe demerits, is a better term.

Lazarus is the former chairman most allied with the development community in the history of county government. As chairman, Lazarus convinced county council to purchase approximately 3,700 acres of undevelopable wetlands in the Carolina Forest area, at a cost of approximately $12 million taxpayer dollars, paid to a well-known Richmond, Va. developer. The excuse was the county needed to establish a wetlands mitigation bank for future road projects.

Since leaving office on January 1, 2019, Lazarus has been busy lobbying council members for a number of re-zonings of CFA land, especially in the Hwy 90 area.

I don’t know if Lazarus believes he can alter the changes to CFA density if he wins back the county chairman seat, but, considering the unanimous vote by council to change CFA density allowance and continuing pressure from the citizens to reject questionable development, it is not possible that he can.

After Gardner took over the chairman seat, he was able to convince council to institute impact fees on new development to help pay for the cost of new infrastructure and other capital needs associated with that development. Following the discussion among council members during its last meeting, those fees will be expanded to transportation and stormwater impact fees in the coming fiscal year to help pay for much needed upgrades to roads such as 90, 905. 701 and 9 and associated flooding mitigation efforts.

Lazarus preferred to raise property taxes and existing county fees, including leading the passage of the largest single property tax increase in county history in 2015, rather than promote an impact fee law counter to the wishes of his donors and supporters in the development community.

Nevertheless, word has reached GSD that a group of developers has formed to support Lazarus and other candidates who, if elected, will be amenable to the wishes of developers instead of citizens’ groups.

It’s not only the support of developers that Lazarus is counting on. He is also expecting the Chamber to back his candidacy because of his historical support for local funding of Interstate 73.

In fact, had Lazarus been re-elected in 2018, instead of being defeated by Gardner, Horry County would have already transferred approximately $100 million of locally collected tax revenues to the S. C. Department of Transportation for the I-73 project.

One of the last moves Lazarus made before bowing out as county chairman at the end of 2018 was to convince council to approve a funding arrangement with SCDOT, which would have provided at least $25 million per year in funding for I-73 from locally collected hospitality fees.

Gardner was successful in leading a vote to cancel that contract in the first year of his chairmanship before any county revenues had been sent to the state.

However, it remains a goal of the Chamber to have the county contribute hospitality fee revenue to construction of I-73. Lazarus appears to be the only hope the Chamber has of keeping I-73 local funding from falling off a cliff. Any such funding for I-73 would, of course, be at the expense of repair and improvements on Hwy 90, Hwy 905, US 501, US 701, Hwy 319 and so on.

Gardner pledged support for public safety personnel from the beginning of his term in office and has successfully increased funding for pay and additional personnel since his first year in office. Some of the revenue used to pay for the increase has come from the hospitality fees that Lazarus preferred to spend on I-73.

Gardner versus Lazarus Round Two will have a certain feeling of déjà vu attached to it. However, it is nearly four years since Lazarus and then county administrator Chris Eldridge dictated to council what the county would do while treating every other group in the county with disdain.

Speaking of  being out of touch with the electorate, Lazarus was the first local politician to endorse re-election of Tom Rice in a video posted on Facebook.

The arrogance that cost Lazarus the last election will inevitably cost him again.

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