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Pawleys Plaza: Former big-box project seeks variance for roof design

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A year after the owners of Pawleys Island Plaza sought approval for a 119,500-square-foot retail building, they will be back for a hearing to allow a variance on the roof design for a building less than half that size.

A hearing on the big-box store, which Sunbelt Ventures told county officials was proposed for a Walmart, drew 1,300 people. Next week’s hearing before the Georgetown County Architectural Review Board won’t draw crowds, but it will draw at least one opponent.

Sunbelt plans to redevelop the aging shopping center, replacing a portion of the main building with a 46,000-square-foot structure. That’s less than the 60,000 approved by Georgetown County Council in January after the Planning Commission recommended against the original proposal.

The same portion of the zoning ordinance that sets the size limit also creates design standards. The county requires a pitched roof over at least half of a structure visible from the highway. Sunbelt wants to have a pitched roof over 30 percent of the new building, according to Boyd Johnson, the county planning director. It wants to mitigate that by building pitched roofs in place of flat roofs on other buildings in the shopping center.

Sunbelt argues that the net result will be that 50 percent of the buildings included in the redevelopment will have pitched roofs, Johnson said.

The planning staff points out that other commercial projects have managed to meet the pitched-roof rules, including Fresh Market and the pending Lowes Foods project on Highway 17 at the South Causeway.

Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis said he supports the planning staff’s decision. He was a leader in the Don’t Box the Neck committee that campaigned against the big-box store. The town, which doesn’t include Highway 17, also opposed that plan. It hasn’t taken a position on the design issue at Pawleys Island Plaza, but it has encouraged the county to maintain the design and landscape standards for Lowes Foods.

Otis said he planned to circulate the planning staff report from the architectural review board to Don’t Box the Neck members this week. Because of the holiday weekend, he didn’t expect the group to meet before the review board hearing on Wednesday.

“I plan to be there,” he said. “If you let down the bar on this everybody will say, ‘You did it for them’ ” and seek similar variances.

The review board will have to decide whether to grant a variance to design standards based on four criteria:

• there are extraordinary conditions;

• the conditions don’t apply to other buildings in the area;

• enforcing the ordinance would create a hardship;

• allowing a variance wouldn’t harm the area or the intent of the ordinance.

Building a pitched roof over half the 46,000-square-foot structure would cause it to exceed the county’s 35-foot height limit, “a building height that would not be financially or structurally feasible,” according to the planning staff.

“Furthermore, the applicant has asserted that without the variance the entire structure cannot be improved,” the staff report notes.

The review board hasn’t met since 2004. It last granted an appeal in 2003 for a renovation at Thomas Supply Co. on Bypass 17. The company was allowed a shallower roof pitch than the ordinance requires, but the structure was never built.

The review board meets Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in County Council chambers.

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