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Walmart: Plan for Pawleys store avoids county size limit

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A new Walmart store is being proposed as the replacement for an aging shopping center in Pawleys Island, according to Georgetown County officials.

Sunbelt Ventures presented plans to the county Monday for a $20 million redevelopment of Pawleys Island Plaza. It calls for demolishing most of the existing complex and construction of a 119,500-square-foot store on an adjoining parcel.

Dusty Wiederhold, a partner in Sunbelt, said he could not name the tenant under the terms of his contract, but Boyd Johnson, the county planning director who has talked with engineers about the property, confirmed it is Walmart. So did County Council members who have talked with Sunbelt.

“Everybody knows who it is,” Wiederhold conceded.

Sunbelt, based in Mount Pleasant, bought the mortgage to Pawleys Island Plaza from Bank of America, which was in foreclosure proceedings against the former owners. It was due to be sold at the courthouse Monday, but the owners, Mickey and Beverly Stikas, transferred title in lieu of foreclosure two weeks earlier. The price was not recorded, but the balance owed Bank of America was $5.3 million.

Wiederhold said the project was initiated by the tenant about a year before Sunbelt acquired the mortgage. “All our business is tenant-driven,” he said.

By acquiring additional property behind the current shopping center, Sunbelt hopes to be able to avoid the county’s 45,000-square-foot limit on commercial buildings in the Highway 17 corridor. The corridor only extends 500 feet from the highway, and the Walmart would be outside of it.

The current shopping center would become parking for the store, something Wiederhold pointed out is allowed under a recent change to the zoning ordinance that allows off-site parking to meet the county requirements.

There will also be 25,400 square feet of additional space along Highway 17 and Petigru Drive. Those buildings will buffer the main store from the highway and conform to the architectural guidelines in the commercial corridor.

The Walmart won’t have to comply with the design code, which includes a pitched roof, but Wiederhold said the tenant has planned a building that will fit into local architectural style.

Pawleys Island Plaza was built in the mid-1980s. It suffered after Food Lion bought out an A&P grocery in the center in 1995, then kept the space vacant after it opened its supermarket on the South Causeway.

Wiederhold said bringing in a national retailer is the only way to revive Pawleys Island Plaza, which is a “planned development” zoning district approved for 100,600 square feet of building space. Just over 77,000 square feet were built, and Wiederhold said most of that doesn’t meet current building code requirements. It’s cheaper to tear it down, recycle the materials and start again, which he said is what Sunbelt plans to do.

The company needs Georgetown County’s approval to change the planned development, both for the additional property and for the 46,330 square feet of additional space it proposes.

“We’re not going to please everybody,” Wiederhold said. “We would like the community’s support.”

He believes the proposal meets the zoning regulations, and he will emphasize the economic impact:

• 225 to 300 jobs, depending on whether the store is open 16 or 24 hours;

• $190,000 a year in property taxes, up from $40,000 today.

In addition, the project would generate $140,000 in impact fees and have $45 million in annual retail sales. How that might benefit the county is unclear, since County Council is in the process of placing a 1-cent capital improvement sales tax on the November ballot. That could mean $450,000 from the redeveloped plaza. However, the county has also talked about eliminating the impact fee for capital projects if the sales tax is approved by voters.

Wiederhold said he has already presented the plan to County Council members individually.

“I hope at the end of the day, rational minds will prevail,” he said.

And if not?

“There’s always a Plan B,” Wiederhold said.

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