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Pawleys Plaza: E-mails show how Walmart figured into developers plan

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

County planning staff members’ e-mails show that a Walmart was being planned for Pawleys Plaza, despite a denial from the developers’ attorney at a public hearing before Georgetown County Council last week.

Gray Taylor, a Mount Pleasant lawyer hired by Sunbelt Ventures, said Wal-Mart was not the case the night of the hearing. “It was never the case,” he added.

E-mails obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the S.C. Environmental Law Practice say that developers were considering a Walmart for Pawleys Island a year before their rezoning request became public, but they never had a signed agreement and maintained deniability.

“It’s official,” County Planning Director Boyd Johnson wrote in an e-mail to County Administrator Sel Hemingway, and County Council Members Bob Anderson, Jerry Oakley and Johnny Morant on Aug. 6. “We just received plans for amending the Pawleys Island PD to accommodate a new Walmart.”

Johnson e-mailed his assistant Holly Richardson on Aug. 6: “They have elevations of the front stores, but not Walmart. They will be ready Friday.”

Pawleys Island resident Terry Munson got wind of the Wal-Mart plan and e-mailed Johnson: “Since we already have four other Walmarts nearby, another big box store is not needed in Pawleys Island, South Carolina.” He included a petition that he was sending to Mike Duke, Wal-Mart CEO, pledging not to patronize the store.

In an e-mail on Aug. 9, Johnson told Mike Wooten of DCC Engineering in Myrtle Beach, “I hope I haven’t messed up, but I’ve been referring to Pawleys Plaza as Walmart. Walmart told the Georgetown Times yesterday that they had no plans at this time. I know we were talking about a lady coming down to the Planning Commission meeting and presenting the facts on behalf of Wal-Mart ....

Wooten replied: “You haven’t messed up at all. It’s always best to tell the truth as you know it. It’s just that their property committee hasn’t given the final OK to the size of the store so they haven’t assigned a project number to it yet. Officially, there isn’t a project until a store number is assigned. The meeting with the lady from Walmart on the 16th is definitely ON.”

On Aug. 13, Anderson said that he was getting quite a lot of e-mail concerning Walmart locating in the community.

“Developers approached us about a year ago during a fact-finding, feasibility study about locating a Walmart in Pawleys Island,” he wrote. “I will tell you I don’t want a Walmart to locate here.”

In an Aug. 28 e-mail to Johnson, Sunbelt partner Tom Massey began using “national retailer” in reference to the plaza’s main tenant.

On Aug. 30, Anderson was beginning to put Sunbelt’s strategy together. He wrote: “Council’s recent approval of a change to an ordinance which was meant to allow small businesses to meet parking space requirements opened the door for Sunbelt Ventures LLC to meet the county requirements to locate in the Pawleys Island Plaza.”

On Aug. 30, Wooten wrote to Johnson about the large building’s roof pitch: “Due to the size of the building, we cannot possibly meet the letter of these standards. We do plan, however, to do our best to meet the intent of those standards. Please remember we are behind the 500 feet and, as such, we are not part of that zone and, because of that, the Waccamaw Neck Commercial Corridor Ordinance standards would not apply. However, we will work diligently to create an acceptable appearance as depicted in the conceptual renderings previously provided to the Planning Department.”

Anderson said after last week’s County Council meeting that the language of the overlay zone, restricting the size of stores within 500 feet or visible from Highway 17 made the difference. The language of the ordinance was a compromise offered by Oakley when some objected to the original overlay zone’s 1,000-foot restriction.

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