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Pawleys Island Plaza: Developer meets with opponents to start review

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The owners of Pawleys Island Plaza will meet today with opponents of plans for a big-box retail store as part of a proposed redevelopment of the site. It’s the start of a month-long process of reexamination by Sunbelt Ventures before Georgetown County Council takes up the issue.

The Mount Pleasant-based developers this week asked the council to defer action on a Planning Commission recommendation until November. After a public hearing last month that drew an estimated crowd of 1,300 people, the commission voted to approve an expansion of the plaza to include adjacent property and increase the amount of retail space. However, the commission said the project had to comply with the commercial “overlay district” on Waccamaw Neck that limits the size of retail buildings.

Sunbelt proposed a 119,500 square foot building. The current “planned development” zoning allows 84,000 square feet as part of a renovation of the complex. The overlay zone limits buildings to 45,000 square feet, but allows up to 60,000 square feet in a planned development.

Dusty Wiederhold, a partner in Sunbelt, said he thinks the commission’s recommendation is unclear. Sunbelt argued that the big-box store was outside the 500-foot limit of the overlay zone. County planning staff recommended approval.

“I’m still as confused as I was a week ago,” Wiederhold said.

“We’re not confused,” said Amy Armstrong, head of the S.C. Environmental Law Project. She represents the Coastal Conservation League, which has said it is willing to go to court to enforce the big-box limit.

The ordinance says it applies to developments “when visible from U.S. Highway 17.”

Armstrong and Nancy Cave, the head of the conservation league’s local office, were scheduled to meet with Sunbelt Thursday morning. Both are members of Don’t Box the Neck, a citizens group that first formed in 2005 to oppose a Lowe’s Home Improvement Center planned for Highway 17 at the South Causeway. But Armstrong said she and Cave will only be representing the conservation group.

“Our legal position has been pretty consistent and pretty solid,” Armstrong said.

They have no problem with a building up to 60,000 square feet.

Wiederhold said Sunbelt believes the 84,000 square feet approved by the county in 2008 as part of the previous owner’s renovation plan is still valid.

“The philosophy in our business is that you need to generate traffic on a weekly basis,” he said. “A large tenant generates the traffic.”

The industry rule of thumb is that 70 percent of the space needs to be leased to national retailers to secure financing and make a shopping center viable. That could be one retailer or several, Wiederhold said.

Sunbelt is reviewing the tenant mix for the plaza. A large part of the comment at the public hearing was spurred by Sunbelt’s acknowledgement that Wal-Mart Stores is interested in the property, though has not made a commitment.

Sunbelt is looking at potential tenants who are already in the Myrtle Beach area. “There are a lot of tenants that have gone into that market that aren’t in the Pawleys market,” Wiederhold said. “We’ve asked for time to explore that.”

County Council Member Bob Anderson, whose district includes the plaza, said he hopes Sunbelt will still be able to redevelopment the center and surrounding property. “I’m a capitalist and a free-market guy. If they meet the law, I’m not going to try to tell anybody what kind of business they can put in there,” he said.

The law, he added, limits the building to 60,000 square feet unless Sunbelt plans to follow through with the 2008 renovation. But Anderson agrees with Sunbelt that the existing center needs to be demolished.

Council Member Jerry Oakley, who drafted the provision that ties the size limit to visibility from the highway, said he wasn’t surprised Sunbelt asked for a deferral. “Hopefully, Sunbelt will develop a plan that will be accepted by the community,” he said.

That’s the goal, Wiederhold said. “We hope that at the end of the day we can come to some meaningful agreement,” he said.

Read more about the project: Pawleys Island and Walmart

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