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Pawleys Plaza: Town not likely to appeal design variance

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The town of Pawleys Island doesn’t like the design variance granted for the redevelopment of Pawleys Island Plaza, but it may not be able to do anything about it, Mayor Bill Otis said.

The variance approved last month by the county Architectural Review Board allows Sunbelt Ventures to construct a roof that is mostly flat over a 45,000-square-foot building that will be home to a Publix supermarket. The county’s commercial design standards for the Highway 17 corridor on Waccamaw Neck require at least half of a building to have a pitched roof.

After the review board approved the variance, Georgetown County Council voted to fire the seven board members and start the process to amend the zoning ordinance to delete the requirement for a review

See “Plaza,” Page 2

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board. But the council took no action when Otis asked that the review board decision be appealed to Circuit Court.

“The County Council placed these ordinances in effect, the county chose not to defend the ordinance at the hearing,” Otis said. “The whole thing was incorrectly done.”

This month, Otis sought an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office about the process of appealing the variance.

The county ordinance says the variance can be appealed by a person with “a substantial interest.” That would include property owners in the area, according to the opinion offered by Anita Fair, an assistant attorney general.

“This office wants to caution you in pursuing a government entity’s standing,” she wrote. If the town wants to pursue and appeal, “it must allege an infringement on its own proprietary interests or statutory rights,” she said, citing previous court rulings.

Pawleys Island Plaza isn’t in the town limits, but the town was instrumental in organizing opposition to Sunbelt’s request last year for zoning approval to build a 119,500-square-foot building for a Walmart as part of the redevelopment of the aging shopping center.

Otis said it seems clear the town can’t appeal the county Architectural Review Board’s variance. Don’t Box the Neck, a citizens group that opposed the Walmart rezoning, has disbanded. He doesn’t believe any of the members would qualify individually to challenge the variance.

“Most of the people I talk with say what I said at the council meeting: the council needs to correct its own mistake,” Otis said.

The Architectural Review Board’s findings, drafted by the county attorney, were sent to Sunbelt on Oct. 4. That triggers a 30-day window for an appeal of the decision to Circuit Court, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

“That would be our position,” he said. Sunbelt has told county staff the appeals window should have started when the review board took a vote on Sept. 4.

The board’s findings were also sent Friday to Steve Goggans, who was the chairman when the variance was issued. “I was totally mystified by the request,” he said. He was among those fired on Sept. 10.

“I did sign the document,” he said. “I didn’t see any issues with the comments.”

Although the new building won’t meet the design standard for roof pitch, Sunbelt will put pitched roofs on existing buildings in the complex as mitigation.

Publix formally announced its plans for a Pawleys Island store last week. It said in a statement that the store will open in early 2015.

Sunbelt has not applied for a building permit. “I would not issue it until I got a legal opinion,” Johnson said.

He has also had talks with the developer of Pawleys Market on Highway 17 at the South Causeway, where a Lowes Foods store is under construction. That building, at 46,236 square feet, complies with the roof standards. But the Pawleys Market developers there have said they will seek a variance similar to the one issued to Sunbelt because it would make their grocery store less expensive.

The county issued building permits for the $3.5 million Lowes Foods store last month.

In order for that project to get a roof design variance, it would require approval from the Planning Commission and County Council, Johnson said. The county would treat the request as a change to the “planned development” zoning for the property.

Unlike the Pawleys Plaza request, which took a month, a Pawleys Market request would take at least three months because the council will have to give it three readings.

“I don’t know for sure what they’re doing,” Johnson said. “We sent them all the written information.”

Pawleys Market did change the exterior of the Lowes Foods. A large expanse of glass on the front and a glass “silo” are no longer part of the plan. It still complies with the design standards, but “it’s less unique,” Johnson said.

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