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Pawleys Plaza: Big-box foes unsure of new plan

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A new plan to redevelop Pawleys Island Plaza shows a single building of 109,000 square feet divided among three retail tenants. Whether that meets the Georgetown County size limit on commercial buildings in the Highway 17 corridor on Waccamaw Neck is still under review, both by county staff and a citizens group that opposed plans for a 119,500-square-foot retail store on the site.

Sunbelt Ventures of Mount Pleasant acquired the shopping center this summer and applied to the county for permission to add more property and new buildings. It is zoned as a “planned development,” which requires county approval for changes on that scale.

After a public hearing in September that drew 1,300 people, the county Planning Commission recommended approval of the project but without the big-box retail store.

Sunbelt agreed last month to drop that building and work within the requirements of the Waccamaw Neck Overlay District, which limits buildings to a maximum of 60,000 square feet. Under the revised plan received by the county last week, Sunbelt plans to raze a portion of the existing center and replace it with a 60,000-square-foot addition. It will keep an existing 33,382-square foot space built for a grocery store and add another 16,000-square-foot space.

“If it’s one building, it can’t be in compliance,” said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director. “We’re still debating that.”

County Council is due to take up the plan for the second of three readings on Jan. 8. Johnson said the planning staff has asked Sunbelt for drawings to show what the new proposal would look like. “That would be something we would need before it went to council,” he said.

The staff also wants information about traffic impact.

Kelley Glenn, project manager for Sunbelt, said they are still examining the traffic.

Sunbelt still plans to reconfigure the drainage for the site and build new retail space over an existing stormwater retention pond. Glenn said that building will be the same Lowcountry style shown in the original plan.

Glenn said Sunbelt is also waiting for word from Don’t Box the Neck, a citizens group that led the opposition to the big-box store in the original plan.

“We have met multiple times to discuss, work with and compromise with Don’t Box the Neck,” Glenn said. “After our last meeting, they told us the best the group could do is to provide us with a letter of no opposition.”

Whether that is forthcoming depends on getting additional information about the revised plan, said SueAnn Crawford, who chairs Don’t Box the Neck.

The site plan provided to the county is the same one shown to the group. But Crawford said the group was told that Sunbelt would stipulate that the interior walls in the largest building would not be breached to create a space larger than 60,000 square feet.

She said the committee also wants to see a rendering of what the building will look like. The overlay zone sets design standards for commercial buildings as well as size limits.

“I don’t see where there’s enough information,” Crawford said.

“That’s the bottom line,” Johnson said. “People want to know what it’s going to look like.”

He said the staff will include a restriction that there won’t be interior access between the spaces in the largest building, if the staff decides that building meets the requirements.

“We may have to ask for a separation between the buildings,” Johnson said.

In that case, Sunbelt would have to shift the buildings around in order to fit them on the property, he said.

He expects the staff to stick with its original conditions on the project that Sunbelt improve Richardson Drive between the plaza and Waverly Road to provide additional access and that it make improvements on Highway 17 to control traffic into the center.

Sunbelt, which was originally prompted to redevelop the site for a Walmart, proposed a traffic signal at Highway 17 and Petigru Drive. It’s uncertain whether traffic for the buildings that are now proposed would be enough to get approval from the state Department of Transportation for a signal. “DOT is going to look at uses, and right now we don’t have that,” Johnson said.

“I suspect at the end of the day they’ll be able to justify it,” he added. “We want it to be a successful business, and that means traffic.”

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