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Pawleys Plaza: Lone dissenter proven right in aftermath of variance

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Waccamaw Neck Architectural Review Board member Glenda Shoulette said a vote to grant a roof design variance for developers of Pawleys Plaza would gut the county’s overlay ordinance before a vote was taken last week.

Board members voted 5-1 to override the design standard requiring at least 50 percent of a new building’s roof to be pitched.

And Shoulette’s comment proved prophetic.

Community outrage, possible legal action and the threat of another developer to seek similar relief sparked County Council to dismiss its members and begin a process to abolish the review board this week.

The ruling allowed the plaza’s new building to have 30 percent of its roof visible from Highway 17 pitched and the remainder flat. Sunbelt plans to mitigate the anchor store’s shortcomings by exceeding the minimum pitched roof requirements on other, smaller buildings. One would have had 86 percent sloped roof.

Matt Cross, a development associate for Sunbelt, said the plaza project would have sloped roofing over 52.6 percent of its area when completed. The ordinance requires 34,654 square feet of pitched roof, and Cross said Sunbelt was proposing 36,441 square feet spread among all the buildings, both new and renovated.

The board agreed that Sunbelt met the four criteria for a variance:

• 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.

Board members Susan Krowka and Sam Plexico indicated they didn’t want to miss an opportunity to redevelop the plaza. “I drive by there every day,” Krowka said. “It’s been a eyesore for awhile.”

Plexico said, “this is the last best chance to make a significant improvement,” adding that the deteriorating shopping center could sit there forever. “I’m tired of government impeding independent business people risking their own capital,” he said. “There’s no question what’s being done will increase the value. This is the worst looking property in Pawleys Island.”

Shoulette reminded her fellow board members that the design standards have been on the books a long time and have been successful.

“Once they demolish,” she said, “this is new construction.”

Plexico made a motion to grant the variance, but county attorney Wesley Bryant interrupted the proceedings to explain that the motion must address each of the four criteria.

Krowka made a substitute motion addressing each.

At the review board hearing, Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis objected to lowering the standards for Pawleys Plaza after Lowes Foods, Fresh Market and Piggly Wiggly have been forced to meet them. Ace Hardware, he said, had to be redesigned to meet the standards. “If a building’s size is a problem,” Otis said, “how did Lowes meet the requirements?’

Otis said Sunbelt’s plea for relief was “hauntingly similar” to its claim that there could be no rehab of the aging shopping center without a 120,000 square foot anchor store. He called the developers disingenuous.

“This will effectively negate the conditions of the Waccamaw Neck Overlay Zone,” Otis said. “Lowes meets the requirement. What signals do we send when we thank one developer who cooperates and reward one who does not?”

Ron Swinson, a developer of Pawleys Market at the South Causeway, said his company would consider seeking similar relief from design guidelines if it was granted to Pawleys Plaza.

He said it was not too late for architects to redesign the Lowe’s Foods building even though footings are being poured next week.

Karen Yaniga who lives off the South Causeway said plaza developers were attempting to circumvent the ordinance. “It’s totally unnecessary,” she said, “and does not create a hardship.” While others meet the design standards, Sunbelt works the opposite way. “You draw the building you want,” she said, “and seek a variance from the rules.”

SueAnn Crawford, chairman of Don’t Box the Neck, feared the ruling would set a precedent for the Waccamaw Neck.

“It may be inconvenient or more expensive to follow the guidelines,” she said, “but we all benefit.” She called the variance “an insult to existing businesses.”

Voting for the variance was Krowka, Plexico, Thomas Bevins, vice chairman Michael Walker and chairman Steve Goggans.

Shoulette was the lone vote against it. The variance will stand, according to Bryant. It can only be overtuned through legal action.

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