When Beazer Homes learned that it would lose eight lots at its Cameron Village community in Myrtle Beach, S.C., due to a road-widening project, the Georgia-based builder used that inconvenience to rethink how it could build on its remaining 90 acres there.
Like other production builders around the country, Beazer is trying to maximize its real estate assets and deliver homes that appeal to the broadest number of targeted buyers, at prices that still generate profits. So, the proposal that Beazer came up with called for building fewer homes overall, but more on smaller lots than what was in the original development plan.
That proposal has met with mounting opposition from residents who, through early August, had purchased 344 homes at Cameron Village. Having seen their home values tumble during the recession, residents now fear further depreciation if Beazer builds more dwellings on smaller lots in their neighborhood.
“We know the economy tanked. But our homes, which are our main asset, have also lost value,” says Deborah Godwin Perkins, an associate professor of psychology and sociology at Coastal Carolina University, whose family has owned a home on a 10,000-square-foot lot at Cameron Village since December 2007.
More than 80 residents showed up at a raucous town meeting in late July, and Perkins hopes to have 300 signatures on a petition to block Beazer’s plans by Sept. 3, when the Horry County Council is expected to take up the issue.
Because Cameron Village is in a planned development district, or PDD, any plan changes require council approval, and the county’s 11-person planning commission already gave unfavorable votes to Beazer’s proposal and amended proposal. If the council puts this on its agenda, a “one-read” resolution to deny the proposal would be offered. If that resolution passes, the proposal is dead for a year; if it’s defeated there could be as many as three more “reads.”
Janet Carter, the county’s planning director, says that residents have “complained bitterly” not only about Beazer’s lot-reduction plans, but also about unfulfilled promises, such as the builder’s failure to install fountains that aerate local ponds, more open space, and a separate swimming pool for the community's multifamily area.
“The residents’ perception that Beazer has promised stuff it hasn’t delivered on is a far bigger hangup” than reducing the lot sizes, observes Councilman Gary Loftus. Given the community’s pushback, Loftus doesn’t think Beazer will get its proposal past the council unless it addresses the amenities issues first. “I told them they should drop back 10 yards and bring out their best punter,” the councilman says.
But as of early August, Perkins asserted that her task force was beyond the point of compromise. “We are not going to let Beazer get away with this.”
Beazer has had this land under contract since 2005. Perkins claims the original development called for 21% of the 741 approved home sites to be on 10,000-square-foot or larger lots. Beazer’s change proposal, she claims, at one point dropped that number to 4%, with a far greater number of homes to be built on 7,500-square-foot or smaller lots.
Carter and the county’s deputy planning director, Carol Coleman, note that some estimates about how many homes would be built and on what size lots had been expressed “verbally” and were not part of any submitted applications.
Some confusion might stem from the fact that, for rezoning purposes, any lot under 10,000 square feet gets included in the 7,500-square-foot designation. According to a source familiar with Beazer’s latest revised plan, the builder intends to complete 663 homes. Of the 319 remaining to be constructed, 58 single-family homes would be built on 8,000- to 9,000-square-foot lots, eight on 9,000- to 10,000-square-foot lots, 51 on 10,000- to 11,000-square-foot lots, and 14 on lots larger than 11,000 square feet. The rest would be a combination of single- and multifamily homes on lots 7,500 square feet or smaller.
In a prepared statement, Chris Teal, Myrtle Beach division president for Beazer Homes, says the builder has completed “an extensive offering” of amenities at Cameron Village, adding: “We are currently working with the planning department in Horry County and the residents of Cameron Village to come up with an acceptable solution for all parties that would keep the number of total homes well below the approved level.”