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Big-box stores: County urged to reduce commercial building size limit
By Jason Lesley
Opponents of big-box retailers on the Waccamaw Neck began sowing the seeds of reform while they were agreeing to accept a compromise that will allow the redevelopment of Pawleys Island Plaza.
Georgetown County Council approved second reading of a proposal to redevelop the plaza with an anchor store of 60,000 square feet and auxiliary retail spaces of 33,000 and 16,000 square feet. That retail space — developers sent word assuring opponents it would not be a Walmart to diffuse protests — will be a third larger than anything else on Highway 17 between Brookgreen Gardens and the Waccamaw River bridge.
Food Lion’s store is 38,000 square feet, and the other retail businesses in the development bring it to 44,000, according to figures compiled by Council Member Bob Anderson.
Fresh Market is 25,000 square feet and the entire development is 31,000.
The Piggly Wiggly at Willbrook Boulevard is seen as an example of acceptable development with its big live oaks and shaded parking. The main building is under 45,000 square feet.
Anderson said he has not decided on his course of action in addressing the size issue in the future, but he’s thinking about it.
“We can get by with less,” he said after Tuesday’s council meeting. “That’s got to change because I’m not going through this again.”
In public comments at the meeting, Howard Ward laid out his vision for new retail store size limits that would match those in place at Murrells Inlet.
“I know we have to have economic development,” Ward said, “and we want that, but we want to do it in a way that does not destroy this place. The thing we don’t want is a big-box store. Georgetown County and Sunbelt have worked very closely in redeveloping Pawleys Plaza in a way that will be a real asset to Georgetown County. After this is done, we would like to suggest that planning [officials] take a close look at the overlay zone.”
The zone covers commercial development along Highway 17 on Waccamaw Neck. It limits buildings to 45,000 square feet but allows up to 60,000 square feet in a “planned development” zone.
He had five suggestions:
• Limit a single building to 30,000 square feet, 45,000 in a planned development with approval of the council. That’s consistent with the overlay zone for Business 17 in Murrells Inlet;
• Allow only one building over 45,000 or 30,000 in a planned development;
• Clarify the definition of the word “building.” Charleston and Richland counties have different interpretations;
• Increase the overlay zone depth on Highway 17 from 500 feet to 1,000 feet. “That would be a great thing to preserve the culture and look we all want along the Waccamaw Neck,” he said;
• Change the off-site parking provisions in the ordinance so that this provision does not apply to separate parcels within the same planned development. “This was an oversight,” he said. Sunbelt Ventures used off-site parking provisions in the ordinance to make its case for the original building plan with its 119,500-square-foot retail space.
Four of the proposals were put forth in a newspaper ad last week by Don’t Box the Neck, the citizens group that organized opposition to a big-box store at the plaza.
Jennifer Brown, who owns Pawleys Island Supplies with her husband, Chris, also asked council members to consider the Murrells Inlet overlay restrictions of 30,000 and 45,000 square feet for the Waccamaw Neck.
Anderson said after the meeting that the language of the overlay zone, restricting buildings within 500 feet or visible from Highway 17 was critical in the big-box argument.
“What saved the day,” he said, “was that they modified the overlay to 500 feet. If it hadn’t been for that, we’d have had a Walmart.”