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Pawleys Plaza: Plan for new building hinges on finding tenant

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

What started as a roar, the redevelopment of Pawleys Plaza, ended with a whimper this week.

After a few final requests from former opponents, the “planned development” proposed by Sunbelt Ventures for the down-at-the-heels shopping center won unanimous final approval from Georgetown County Council Tuesday.

Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis called the compromise that kept a big-box retailer off Waccamaw Neck “a good place to be from where we started.”

Council members approved an anchor store of 60,000 square feet after developers originally sought one twice as large that was said to be driven by interest from Wal-Mart Stores. However, that large building was not included in conceptual drawings sent to planning director Boyd Johnson before this week’s council meeting. The drawings show only a rehabilitated plaza with an area designated for a 60,000-square-foot building should a tenant be signed.

Plaza developers had proposed a retail store with nearly 120,000 square feet, said to be driven by interest from Wal-Mart. When county planners recommended only a store of 60,000 square feet, the largest allowed in the Waccamaw Neck Overlay Zone, Sunbelt began searching for a new tenant while striking a compromise with big-box opponents.

Even so, Pawleys Plaza could contain the biggest retail store ever built on the Neck. Members of the group Don’t Box the Neck and others who agreed to this compromise, have said they will seek further reductions in retail square footage within the Waccamaw Neck Overlay Zone.

SueAnn Crawford, who chairs Don’t Box the Neck, told members of County Council that the final details of the plaza’s redevelopment would be important. She listed a bike path, landscaping and lighting that took requests from the turtle protection group SCUTE into consideration.

Otis asked that Sunbelt be required to make each of the three large stores along the back of the development have different elevations and roof lines to avoid a contiguous facade. “Without that,” Otis said, “it would give the impression of a big box.”

He also wanted larger trees than the county’s ordinance requires. “This building will be 30 to 35 feet high and fairly long across the middle,” he said. “A tree 3 inches wide at the base will look like a matchstick against the facade of this building.”

Tom Stickler, a resident of Hagley, said he wanted to see some “loose ends” tied up before the project was approved. He wanted Richardson Lane to be brought up to standards, paved and turned over to the county. And he said there was no mention of a requirement that the planned residential units in the redevelopment ever be built. In fact, he said, the parcel where the units is planned belongs to the McClary family.

Linda Ketron, who chairs Bike the Neck, said she was “asleep at the wheel” and didn’t realize plans for a bike path across the front of the property had been eliminated before second reading. County Council members agreed with Johnson that Bank of America could not be forced to put a bike path across its property and removed the requirement from Sunbelt.

“This development,” Ketron said, “is one of the reasons we have a bike path. People from the Parkersville community were riding in the median to the store, and we wanted to provide a safe alternative route for bikes. Whatever is planned, Parkersville residents will be employees or customers. It will be a sad irony if it didn’t serve the people it was originally intended for.”

Ketron spoke with Sunbelt partner Dusty Wiederhold prior to the meeting about including a bike path from Waverly to Petigru along the expanded Richardson Lane.

“It’s an important facet that all the communities be linked,” she said. “We don’t have to be in the middle of the development.”

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