MYRTLE BEACH -- Once upon a time Myrtle Beach and surrounding Horry County were a secret enclave of sorts. But the 1970s brought rapid growth. Horry County's population increased nearly 45 percent during the decade and more than doubled through 2006. But somehow the area has avoided some of the growing pains we've had. Horry County Principal Planner David Schwerd says it's because there was so little in place before the population began to surge. Schwerd said, "There wasn't a lot of infrastructure existing, and so the infrastructure that's in place now has been built as we grow." Much like Pender and Brunswick Counties can build what they need while Wilmington fixes an old sewer system. That's why the comparison between the Cape Fear coast and the grand strand is a good one. Horry is a predominantly rural county, anchored by greatly-developed and densely-populated Myrtle Beach -- just as Wilmington anchors Pender, New Hanover and Brunswick Counties. As we continue to grow, planners south of the border say everyone needs to have certain expectations. Myrtle Beach Planning Director Jack Walker said, "When people move into communities, they need to know what the plans are." Jack Walker speaks from 23 years as Myrtle Beach's planning director. He says newcomers should look at a community's comprehensive plan to understand its vision for the future. Walker said, "You need to make sure that the quality of life, the reason that brought these people there in the very beginning, are important priorities in the decision-making for the growth-management techniques that you use." Schwerd says the key is growing properly. In Horry County clusters of neighborhoods are popping up, focusing the effects of development. "If you're going to grow, grow where you need to grow, and don't spread out all over the county," Schwerd said. But some people may argue that growth, like the redevelopment here at Myrtle Beach's old air force base, is a nuisance, bringing little more than crowds and congestion. So what's the up side? "If you put more of that density that's going to occur in one area, it's going to protect more of the rural atmosphere that you have in the rest of the county, and it's going to cost a lot less to build that growth, build the infrastructure that you have," Schwerd said. He says other benefits include increased shopping opportunities, more cultural events and more jobs. And centralizing development properly can actually help ease traffic. Walker said, "One of our goals is to enhance mobility, not just for the car, but for pedestrians, for bikes and for the transit users in the future." Walker says a lack of space won't necessarily slow growth. He says several parts of Myrtle Beach, including the 12-acre site that was once the Pavillion Amusement park, are waiting to be reborn. Schwerd said, "Growth actually can increase the quality of life for many citizens." So how do you do it the right way? Walker said, "Establish a clear vision. Set very strong, aggressive, but realistic goals and work diligently to establish an implementation program that addresses those goals." Next week we'll head back to Myrtle Beach to see the effects of all the growth and development there from a unique perspective.
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