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Pawleys Plaza: Big-box foes bide their time

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The group that opposes a big-box retail store on Highway 17 at Pawleys Island doesn’t want to get involved in the details of the project. It just wants the developer to stick with Georgetown County’s rules that limit the size of commercial buildings.

“They don’t seem to understand our stance,” said SueAnn Crawford, who chairs the Don’t Box the Neck committee.

“If they want to talk, we will be more than willing to listen,” said Dusty Wiederhold, a partner in Sunbelt Ventures.

Sunbelt has proposed a 119,500-square-foot building as part of a redevelopment and expansion of Pawleys Island Plaza. The county Planning Commission voted last month to recommend approval of the plan on the condition that it adheres to the provisions of an “overlay zone” along Highway 17 the controls the design and size of commercial buildings. That would allow no building larger 60,000 square feet.

“We’re only upholding the Waccamaw corridor overlay zone,” Crawford said.

The Planning Commission recommendation was on County Council’s consent agenda for deferral, which required no action. Only two people were disappointed, they said they showed up at the council meeting to speak in favor of the proposal because they favor a Walmart for the area.

Wal-Mart Stores says it is interested in the area and Sunbelt hoped to bring a store to the center, but Sunbelt says it has no commitment from the retailer.

Sunbelt asked County Council to defer a vote on the Planning Commission recommendation until November so it could review its plan, consider the mix of tenants and meet with the opponents.

There are no plans for the Don’t Box the Neck committee to meet with the developers, Crawford said. “It wouldn’t serve any purpose,” she said. “We’re not project designers. We’re not going to pick and choose who does business in our community. That’s not our goal.”

However, two members of the committee met last week with Wiederhold and Gray Taylor, the attorney for Sunbelt.

Amy Armstrong called the session, “enlightening; a little tense at times.”

She is head of the S.C. Environmental Law Project and represents the Coastal Conservation League, which opposes the big-box store. Nancy Cave, the league’s regional director, also attended.

The league said before the Planning Commission hearing that it is willing to go to court to uphold the size limit in the overlay zone. The county planning staff recommended approval of the big-box store because it is outside the 500-foot limit of the overlay zone. But the opponents point out that the county zoning ordinance says the overlay zone restrictions apply to a development “when visible from U.S. Highway 17.”

Wiederhold hoped last week’s meeting would lead to a session with Don’t Box the Neck. Sunbelt would like to meet with the group before it makes any revisions to its plan for the plaza or talks with prospective tenants.

“We were more than happy to sit down and talk,” he said.

Any changes would come before County Council in December, although the council will give a routine approval to the first of three required readings on Nov. 13.

Wiederhold believes the current zoning for the plaza allows Sunbelt a building of 84,000 square feet. That was approved for a previous owner in 2008.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a revised plan with a building at the back that’s exactly that size,” Armstrong said.

She is studying the 2008 change to the plaza “planned development” in order to make her own assessment.

Crawford said Don’t Box the Neck is also looking at that. Although the group initially hoped to slow the pace of the rezoning, which was filed just a month before the hearing and would have led to a key vote at County Council just before the November election, she said having extra time has been a mixed blessing.

The hearing drew an estimated 1,300 people, most of whom opposed the project and many of whom were opposed to a Walmart.

“We’re losing our altitude, basically,” Crawford said.

The committee, which she said has about a dozen members, still meets weekly. Its lawyer, Bob Moran, is drafting a statement of the group’s legal position to send to Sunbelt and Georgetown County.

“Right now, we’re glad for the time, I guess,” Crawford said.

Read more about the project: Pawleys Island and Walmart

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