By Marion Foxworth
(Ed. Note: This article was published in Alternatives Magazine nearly 20 years ago, four years before Marion Foxworth was the District 3 member for Horry County Council. It is reprinted here with permission from the former owner of Alternatives. It made interesting reading then and is even more so today. Carolina Forest was in the very early stages of changing from a tree farm to the most densely populated area in the unincorporated county. I would contend we have headed down the retirement community fork, with tourism on the wane, as witnessed by controversies over bike weeks and adult entertainment, the decline in golf, amusement parks and other entertainment venues as well as continuing issues with infrastructure and public safety. One only has to look at the history of the last 40 years in St. Augustine, FL to see the trend being repeated in Horry County.)
Quite a bit has been said and written about the tremendous growth that we have seen during the last few years. Both Horry County and the City of Myrtle Beach have undertaken extensive efforts to establish updated comprehensive Masterplans. The local daily newspaper devoted countless columns to a series entitled ‘Living in a Boom Town’. And most recently, residents have turned out in record numbers in an effort to influence the direction taken by various governing boards and regulatory agencies.
As a lifelong student of public policy and as an observer of the political environment of South Carolina, I have to opine that we are coming upon a very definitive moment in our history. In short, Myrtle Beach, the Grand Strand and Horry County are at a fork in the road. Which direction we take will determine the type of community we have for generations to come. It also will determine how many of us will make a living and support our families.
The Fork in the Road is represented by two extremes. The fork to the left is one that the direction is dictated by those in power and positions of influence who would have Horry County become ultimately a ‘live-in theme park’. This option would be marked by a continuation of the tremendous building boom of late. Pine trees would continue to fall in record numbers. Our beautiful natural settings would give way to additional growth as our rivers would one day resemble the current ocean front.
Condominiums would continue to be the rage of hordes of gold chain bedangled time-share agents. Theaters would become even more common place, making Branson look small in comparison. Amusement parks and golf courses would become even more plentiful. And of course, even the newly planned roadways will closely resemble those small flat cans of sardines.
Mass transportation will amount to amusement park rides that move tourists from attraction to attraction and to buses and trains bringing in service and custodial workers from surrounding counties. And because most inhabitants will only be here for a very short time each year, political power will become even more relegated to the big business operators that stand to make millions with each passing week.
This scenario will make for tremendous money making opportunities for a, relatively speaking, small numbers of individuals and companies. This situation may be very profitable to the State because of increased sales and accommodations taxes, but full time residents will no doubt be miserable hostages in their own homes. Year round population by middle income families and retirees will shrink as life becomes too much like living on a midway in a state fair.
The opposite fork in the road is no more attractive. This direction could be dictated by a rapidly changing electorate. This fork could be characterized as a ‘live-in retirement home’. These new residents have arrived for a relatively quiet retirement. They are not terribly concerned with the welfare of the tourism industry. They are willing to co-exist as long as that industry does not step on their toes.
The problem is that now it is stepping on their toes and is doing so in an ever increasing fashion. Their ability to impose their will is demonstrated by their numbers and the fact that persons of retirement age tend to vote at higher percentages than other demographic groups. This scenario would be marked by building moratoriums, making any new construction a thing of the past.
Very restrictive sign ordinances would make billboards and tall neon structures equally obsolete, replaced by three foot tall wooden signs. This scenario would demand ‘Bull Conner’ police forces that would inhibit many of the rites of passage activities that we take for granted today. Ever more restrictive noise ordinances will be the order of the day, rendering loud outdoor concerts illegal.
Our traffic problem will be lessened to a great extent because many of the activities that bring visitors to the Grand Strand will no longer be tolerated. Although, we may see another traffic problem created by the increased use of golf carts by seniors. This scenario would also be marked by the loss of thousands of jobs by those in the construction trades industry. Obviously, without new construction, the need would not be here for the thousands of construction workers.
We could possibly see a serious effect on our school system as well. Those that retire here would not feel compelled to eagerly hand over increasingly bigger chunks of their tax contribution to fund schools. Afterall, they will not have children in our school system and they will feel that they contributed enough to the schools in the areas from which they came.
Neither of these ‘forks’ are very appealing to those who stop and think for a moment. The most prudent direction would, no doubt, be a middle of the road path between these two extremes. If taken, these two extremes will be dictated by the electorate out of frustration or apathy. The third path, the middle of the road direction, will have to come from the wisdom, foresight and leadership of our elected officials.
These leaders will have to recognize the dangers that lie ahead by leaving the developers and eventually the electorate to have their way. Left to our own devices, however, these extremes seem to be the only options. We need only look at other resort/retirement communities that have faced extremely rapid growth and the tensions that ensue to see our fate.
Does anyone have a used golf cart for sale?