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South Causeway: Lowes Foods store will meet county size limits

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Lowes Foods will be the tenant for a grocery store planned for the South Causeway to Pawleys Island and its building will be close to the county’s size limit on commercial buildings, according to a partner in the project.

A plan submitted to Georgetown County last month showed a 57,000 square foot building for the tract at the intersection of the causeway and Highway 17. The county limits commercial buildings along the highway to 45,000 square feet, but allows up to 60,000 square feet in a “planned development” with approval from County Council.

But the project has been revised, and the largest building won’t be over 46,000 square feet, said Ron Swinson, a Columbia developer who is a partner in the project. The 18-acre site was acquired by First South Bank in a foreclosure that ended in a jury trial in Circuit Court last year. Swinson has a contract to buy the property.

Lowes Foods, a North Carolina-based chain, announced plans in 2008 to lease a store at the site from a former owner. It opened a 47,000-square-foot store on Highway 707 in Murrells Inlet that year and said it would open a Pawleys Island store in 2010. The recession scuttled those plans.

Swinson said he and his partners were involved in two Lowes Foods stores in Horry County and initially introduced the company to the South Causeway site.

“I think they’ll be a good fit for the area,” he said.

In 2003, Georgetown County rejected a plan for a 168,000-square-foot Lowe’s home improvement center at the site. It is not connected to the grocery chain. Don’t Box the Neck, a citizens group, formed to oppose that project was revived last year to fight a 120,000-square-foot building proposed as part of the redevelopment of Pawleys Island Plaza. Wal-Mart Stores was interested in that site.

The county’s rejection of big-box retail stores helped get the tenant to the South Causeway property, Swinson said.

“That’s positive from our point of view,” he said. “You won’t have a Target. It’s too big.”

Swinson has owned a home at DeBordieu since 1999 and was aware of the fight over the plaza development, which was settled when the developer agreed to limit the largest building to 60,000 square feet.

“I have a particular interest in making sure this is done right and is well-received,” he said. “Pawleys Island is a great long-term site.”

The town of Pawleys Island opposed the Lowe’s home improvement project and the big-box store at the plaza. Although neither site is in the town limits, the town said the big-box stores would change the character of the area.

Mayor Bill Otis said he was pleased that the proposed grocery store will be closer to 45,000 square feet. The town and the Don’t Box the Neck group want Georgetown County to make that the new maximum for all commercial buildings along the highway.

“Clearly the developer understands the culture of the community and why the architectural standards are so important,” Otis said.

He wasn’t surprised the developer sees a benefit in the building size limit.

“Once you keep the big boxes out, you reinforce the small business community and people will be more likely to come here,” he said.

Along with the grocery store, the South Causeway project will have two smaller buildings. Along with a “junior anchor” of 8,000 square feet, there will be spaces of 1,200 to 1,500 square feet for 10 or 12 other businesses.

“All of this was contingent on getting a commitment from the supermarket,” Swinson said. “We’re moving forward in earnest to get the final design and find the tenants for the other spaces.”

He expects most of those tenants will be local.

The site is already approved as a “planned development” for a total of 214,600 square feet, but the county must approve each phase. Swinson said the final development will end up with less space.

The Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the project March 21.

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