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Land use: Neighbors oppose commercial zoning on highway parcel

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A request to rezone property on Highway 17 near Martin Luther King Road had nearby homeowners up in arms last week.

Changing the zoning from “general residential” to “general commercial” would change the character of their neighborhood they said.

The Georgetown County Planning Commission was sympathetic, but the group also saw the logic in having commercial properties in that area, they said. So they decided on a compromise with a recommendation that County Council deny the request from 711 Partners and rezone the 3.1-acre property to “neighborhood commercial” instead.

“It’s a softer use,” said commission member Glenda Shoulette. And while it would allow for the office complex 711 Partners has planned, it would also put more restrictions on potential uses than “general commercial” zoning, keeping out things such as restaurants with drive-thrus.

Commission chairman Jeff Kinard said he would personally find a “neighborhood commercial” zoning a big improvement over “general commercial” if it were his neighborhood.

“I wouldn’t find it objectionable to live behind a professional office, but I would find it objectionable to live behind a McDonald’s,” he said.

But about a half dozen property owners who asked the commission to deny the rezoning were shaking their heads before Kinard finished his sentence. They prefer the area stay residential.

“All these years it’s been residential. Why would you want to have it zoned to be commercial when in Pawleys Island we need housing,” Willis Coachman Johnson asked the commission.

She lives in Virginia, but her family has three properties between Martin Luther King Road and Coachman Drive. Her parents bought the land in 1953 and she and five siblings plan to build retirement homes there.

“People like me who were born here and grew up in this area and moved away … we’re coming back and we don’t want to come back and be in a commercial area,” she said.

While the properties in that area are currently zoned residential, the county’s future land use map calls for commercial zonings. The traffic in the area and accessibility from Highway 17 make properties there good for commercial use, Kinard explained.

In addition to the complaints the commission heard, county staff said they received several e-mails opposing the rezoning and heard additional concerns due to confusion about a Santee Cooper project that some people think is connected with the rezoning request.

“Santee Cooper is doing a lot of work in that area and they’re acquiring rights-of-way,” said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

The department has been trying to alleviate the confusion, explaining the request from 711 Partners has nothing to do with the Santee Cooper project, though the property is currently being leased to Santee Cooper to store equipment materials while they replace and repair utilities along Highway 17.

There has also been confusion over the company’s name, said Jay Smith, a representative for 711 Partners. They’ve been getting queries about whether the company is affiliated with the 7-Eleven convenience store chain. The two are not associated, he said.

The Planning Commission’s recommendation is scheduled for discussion by County Council on May 24. Even if council agrees to a commercial zoning, neighboring property owners shouldn’t expect to see any immediate changes.

The company has owned the property since 2003 and has no plans to develop it in the near future, Smith said.

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