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Pawleys Plaza: County gets plan for smaller boxes

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

In a deal reached yesterday the group that wants to redevelop Pawleys Island Plaza agreed to separate a proposed 60,000 square foot building from an existing building to comply with Georgetown County’s limit on commercial buildings along Highway 17.

That version of the plan by Sunbelt Ventures for the aging shopping center will be up for approval by Georgetown County Council next week.

“We’ve reached a bargain that meets the criteria of the law,” County Council Member Bob Anderson said.

Anderson and Sel Hemingway, the county administrator, met Wednesday with Dusty Wiederhold, a partner in Sunbelt. The Mount Pleasant-based partnership applied in August for approval of a plan to add property to the 10.7-acre shopping center and build a 119,500-square-foot retail store. The project was driven by interest in the site from Wal-Mart Stores.

It ran into opposition from residents who wanted the redevelopment to adhere to the county zoning rules, which allow buildings up to 60,000 square feet in “planned developments” along the highway. The Planning Commission approved Sunbelt’s proposal, but said the project needed to follow the requirements of the ordinance.

The project needs three readings from County Council, and Sunbelt twice asked council to defer votes while it revised its plans.

Last month, the county received a plan that called for demolishing all but a portion of the main building, a 33,000-square-foot space that was once a grocery store. Sunbelt proposed adding 16,000 square feet on one side and 60,000 square feet on the other.

Anderson said that proposal, resulting in a 109,000-square-foot building with three separate spaces, didn’t meet the intent of the ordinance.

Wiederhold, who could not be reached this week, said that Sunbelt wanted to retain an 84,000-square-foot building that was approved by the county in 2008, but never built. He wanted to avoid litigation, he said.

Don’t Box the Neck, a citizens group that organized opposition to a big-box retailer, threatened to go to court to uphold the commercial building size limit.

SueAnn Crawford, who chairs the group, was also due to meet with Wiederhold on Wednesday. She said the group believes that separating the buildings meets the criteria of the zoning ordinance.

“My problem with what they were trying to do was with their interpretation of a building,” Anderson said. “They said it was a combination of interior and exterior walls.”

But based on that concept, Anderson said, it would be possible to build 10 retail spaces with 45,000 square feet each – the maximum allowed outside a planned development – and wind up with a 450,000-square-foot building that would require no county approval.

“I finally got that through to him,” Anderson said. “It’s been a painful road. It was a matter of perseverance on our part.”

The county planning staff completed its review of the 109,000-square-foot proposal last week. I didn’t make a recommendation, said Holly Richardson, the chief planner.

The newest plan was received Wednesday. It shows the vacant grocery store space and the 16,000-square-foot addition separated from the new 60,000-square-foot building by 10 feet. The separation is 1 foot wider than a parking space, Richardson noted.

Increasing the space between the buildings would mean changing the shape of the largest store because it can’t be any closer than 40 feet from the side property line. Anderson said Sunbelt’s objection to the space was aesthetics.

“He wanted to have a façade wall to block the gap,” Anderson said. “I said he could put up a fence.”

The buildings will have to meet design standards contained in the Waccamaw Neck Commercial Corridor Overlay Zone, which requires buildings to have pitched roofs. No elevations have been submitted to accompany the revised site plan.

Sunbelt will also be required to pave Richardson Drive to provide access to the property from Waverly Road. Under the current revision, that road would lead to some vacant commercial space behind the proposed buildings and to a residential area that Sunbelt has proposed at the rear of the tract. The plan shows 12 multi-family units and seven single-family lots.

Sunbelt will be required to seek approval from the state Department of Transportation for a traffic light at the intersection of Highway 17 and Petigru Drive on the south side of the center. While DOT officials have said they will approve a signal when they know a Walmart is planned, Boyd Johnson, the county planning director, has said it may be more difficult to get a signal for another commercial project before it is actually built and information about actual traffic is available.

County Council is scheduled to take up the issue when it meets Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the old courthouse.

“With the information we have, I don’t think we’ll have a problem doing second reading,” Anderson said.

He expects the final reading would come once additional information is received from Sunbelt.

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