The Van Wyck News

Volume 5 Number 19
A Voice for Freedom          9 December 2013
Cluster Development Fires
          The fundamental question that we have been dancing around for the last six months or more is "Do these things burn up in spectacular manner as a result of the much reduced  lot sizes, side setbacks and building separations?" As you will see below, the answer to this question is a resounding "Yes, they do!" and this leads to a second question, "Why is County Council even thinking about deliberately exposing the residents of Lancaster County to this kind of risk?"
          Two such fires have occurred in Myrtle Beach over the last few years, the first at Barefoot Resort on 23 April 2009. This fire was started by a man burning trash in his front yard, and was nominally put out but resurrected itself several days later and spread to become one of the most damaging in years, consuming 70 homes. Video. A diagram of the damage is available here. It should be noted that the diagram shows that the houses burned in groups. According to the Horry County Planning Department, these houses were built with a minimum 10 foot separation between them. As is normal in such developments, some houses were exactly 10 feet apart, but some had more than 10 feet between them. The ones that are close together tend to burn as a group.
          Most of the Barefoot Resort area has been rebuilt, as is shown in the Google Earth images 1 and 2. They now seem to be a little further apart.
          The second fire was in Windsor Green, Carolina Forest on 16 March 2013, destroying 26 buildings (107 residences) in a condominium community. Aerial images of the Windsor Green Fire site are here. The Horry County Planning Department reports that these condominiums were built using a cluster development approach with buildings 10 feet apart. It is not clear what started the fire. The timeline for the fire shows a response time of 2 minutes18 seconds with eleven additional fire trucks on or responding to the scene at eleven minutes from the initial dispatch. By the time the initial response was on the scene the fire had already ignited two buildings. Pictures of the fire are available here  as well as a diagram showing the damaged area and a Google Earth image of the area taken on 13 December 2012. I understand that the area has been largely rebuilt with larger separations between buildings at this time (21 months after the fire). Horry County has released an after action report on the fire.
          There is no way that Lancaster County could mount this kind of response to such a fire in anything like this time frame. Horry County is much larger (282k) than Lancaster County (80k) with a full time fire department supplemented with volunteers. Horry County  can also draw in the resources of the City of Myrtle Beach for this kind of a fire. Response time in Lancaster County is more likely to be 20 minutes rather than 2 minutes and additional equipment is likely to be 20 or 30 minutes away. You are talking about 20 minutes after the 911 call for the initial response team to arrive and an additional 20 to 30 minutes for assistance to arrive and then it would be likely to be 3 or 4 fire trucks and crews, not eleven. This is not a reflection on the Lancaster County Fire Service, simply a statement that County Council is preparing to put a risk on the ground that the Fire Service is not set up or equipped to handle.
          If the present Cluster Development Proposal passes third reading, Matamy homes will promptly begin the process that will end with 933 new houses on the Treetops site at the north end
of Van Wyck Road. This is more houses on less land than was the case for either of the above two fires. Should a fire get started in the Treetops development there would be no way that Lancaster County could bring enough resources to bear in time to prevent a major disaster. In all likelihood the woods would catch fire as well as the Treetops residential area and the fire could easily spread to consume additional homes in the area.
          One of the primary responsibilities of County government is to protect homeowners from the risk of fire. This is done through a combination of building codes, zoning and fire departments. Lancaster County has adopted a system of volunteer Fire Departments with the longer response times that these entail. Lancaster County needs to keep the building and zoning codes consistent with the capabilities of the volunteer fire departments.  The measures suggested by Matamy Homes include the use of limited fire resistant materials and an unenforceable provision against opposing windows. These may help slow the progress of a fire  down some, but are not going to make a major difference in the kind of fires described above.
          Cluster developments have no place in Lancaster County without major increases in street width, lot area, lot width and the distance between buildings. Consideration must also be given to the numerous other topics that have not been addressed, such as the function of the homeowners association, landscaping provisions and their impact on fire risk, provision of payment for infrastructure, etc.
          Given that this ordinance has been sent back to the Planning Commission already more than once with instructions to increase some of the very small values of street width, lot width, lot size, separation between buildings, etc. and the developer/consultant/Planning Department/Planning Commission have stubbornly refused to modify the values, choosing instead to come back with conditions attached to unchanged values, it seems silly to simply return this project to the Planning Commission for additional rework expecting a different result. From a management viewpoint it is time to cut our losses and kill this project, planning to resurrect it when the rewrite of the UDO begins and we are prepared to address the entire subject.
          If County Council feels that a Cluster Development Ordinance is essential to the welfare of the County within the next six to twelve month, something that I cannot see myself, a more predictable result would be obtained by superconducting the County Attorney to construct a Cluster Development ordinance with values of minimum street width of 30 feet (as used by the City of Baltimore), minimum lot width of 60 feet, minimum lot area of 6000 sq ft, minimum side setback of 10 feet and minimum building separation of 20 feet with no flammable mulch such as pine straw between the houses. The County Attorney could submit the revised ordinance to the Planning Commission for comment but no revision; in that way Council would receive what it asked for without deletion of essential revisions by the Planning Commission.

SavannahBill.jpgLighting the Way 2013
VWPC Choir
Left: Rev. Dr. Bill Johnson and Savannah Bean light a candle in the rainy wind.
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Christmas Parade

     The 2013 Van Wyck Christmas Parade stepped off promptly at noon on Saturday 7 December, 51 units strong. The weather cooperated by holding off the forecast rain

Feeding the Hungry
     Donations to Lancaster County food programs have fallen off recently. The recession increases the number of people facing hunger and the need for food.  The Van Wyck Press is happy to transport food to the agencies serving the needy in Lancaster. If you have food that you would like to donate and would like us to transport it for you, let me know.

Council Members
Contact Information

Councilmember - District 1 - Chairman (Larry McCullough)
Phone: 803-802-5888

Councilmember - District 2 (Charlene McGriff)
Phone: 286-5232

Councilmember District 3 - Vice Chairman (Bob Bundy)
Phone: 803-287-8693
Fax: 803-285-6631

Councilmember - District 4 (Larry Honeycutt)
Phone: 803-246-0021

Councilmember - District 5 (Steve Harper)
Phone: 803-804-5325
Fax: 803-285-3361

Councilmember - District 6 - Secretary (Jack Estridge)
Phone: 803-475-2849

Councilmember District 7 (Brian Carnes)
Phone: 803-288-3290
Fax: 803-285-3361