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Pawleys Island Plaza: Developer weighs options after big-box voted down

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Nearly a week after a vote by the Georgetown County Planning Commission on a proposal to include a big-box retail store in a redevelopment plan for Pawley Island Plaza, the developers were trying to figure out exactly what was decided.

“I haven’t seen a transcript of the hearing,” Dusty Wiederhold, a partner in Sunbelt Ventures, said this week. “My attorney’s been asked to review the minutes.”

What the transcript shows is that commission member Marvin Neal moved to approve the redevelopment plan, but with the stipulation that it comply with the rules of a commercial “overlay zone” that control the appearance of buildings and limits their size to no more than 60,000 square feet in a “planned development” such as Pawleys Island Plaza.

“The motion is that I recommend we go with staff’s recommendation with the, with the, without any exceptions to the overlay zone for Waccamaw Neck. That’s what I’m recommending,” Neal said.

The vote was 4-1.

Sunbelt wans to add property to the development and increase the total retail space, including one building of 119,500 square feet. If approved, it would be the first big-box store on Waccamaw Neck.

The plan drew about 1,300 people for the public hearing last week; 54 spoke. Many were drawn by the potential for a Walmart on the site. Sunbelt says the company is interested, but has not committed.

A national retailer is essential to draw customers to the center, Wiederhold says.

The dilemma for Sunbelt is that the current zoning, approved in 2008, allows a single building on the site of 84,000 square feet. The Planning Commission recommendation, which now goes to County Council, would reduce that.

However, the recommendation also approved an increase in the overall amount of retail space from 112,185 to 150,985 square feet.

“My take on it now is that it’s 60,000 square feet” for the main building, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

The staff recommended approval of the big-box store because it is outside the 500-foot boundary of the overlay zone. Opponents pointed out that the ordinance requires buildings visible from Highway 17 to comply.

“In general, this will probably lead to a re-examination of the ordinance,” Johnson said.

County Council could ignore the commission’s recommendation. The Don’t Box the Neck committee that opposes the project says it will go to court to uphold the building size limit.

The council could also table the issue to give Sunbelt time to come up with a new plan. Johnson said the Planning Commission would have to review any new proposal.

An 84,000-square-foot building was approved as a renovation of the existing complex, Johnson said. “Sunbelt would have to be in the same footprint,” he explained. “Otherwise they’re going to have to go back to the Planning Commission.”

The council could also remand the issue to the Planning Commission, Johnson said, rather than have the developer reapply.

“There are obviously different opinions about the intent of the ordinance,” Wiederhold said. “I would like to have a clear understanding of what was said.”

Read more about the project: Pawleys Island and Walmart

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