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Walmart: Ex-council members say limit on big-box store has no loophole

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

After Georgetown County Council voted down a request for a 168,000-square-foot Lowe’s Home Improvement store in 2005, it went back to the zoning ordinance to close what members said was a loophole.

The county’s limit of 45,000 square feet on commercial buildings along Highway 17 could be raised in a “planned development” zone. That’s what prompted the Lowe’s request.

So council set a maximum size limit of 60,000 square feet in “planned developments.” And it did more. It said that while the limit applied in an “overlay zone” 500 feet on either side of the highway, it also applied to developments “when visible” from the highway.

“We closed the loophole,” Council Member Jerry Oakley said at the time. He was the author of the amendment.

He declined to discuss how that might apply in the case of a request for a big-box store as part of the redevelopment of Pawleys Island Plaza. “I don’t want to be seen trying to influence the Planning Commission,” he said.

But former council members said they believe the amendment, in 2007, settled the issue. “The consensus at the time was, We dealt with it, it’s done,” said David Hood, who represented District 6 at the time of the Lowe’s rezoning issue.

“I remember absolutely closing it,” said Glen O’Connell, who held the District 6 seat when the amendment passed. He was one of the organizers of the original Don’t Box the Neck campaign against Lowe’s. He is watching the plaza rezoning from the sidelines.

O’Connell noted that the overlay zone was originally created to allow commercial design standards. The 45,000-square-foot limit was added after a proposal for a Walmart in Murrells Inlet raised concerns in 2002.

Sunbelt Ventures, which is seeking approval for a 119,500-square-foot store, says the limit doesn’t apply because the store will be over 500 feet from the highway.

“That’s a bit of a dodge on reality,” O’Connell said. “Can you make a 120,000-square-foot Walmart invisible from that distance?”

Dusty Wiederhold, a partner in Sunbelt, said the project was designed to “limit the visual impact” of the main store from Highway 17. “You won’t be able to tell the size.”

Hood believes the size limit still applies. “What’s changed?” he asked.

Read more about the project: Pawleys Island and Walmart

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