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Planning: Signs at Pawleys Market will glow, but not glare

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Planning Commission Chairman Brian Henry hoped to make the signs at Pawleys Market, a 19-acre development at the South Causeway and Highway 17, the new standard for the Pawleys Island-Litchfield area.

Henry didn’t get all he wanted — he said he preferred signs with exterior lighting rather than interior lighting — but felt the Waccamaw Neck will look better with a new sign overlay ordinance that builds on last week’s compromise. Henry said Pawleys Market, featuring a Lowes Foods store with a gasoline fueling station, will be “the gateway to the community” and hoped its signage would inspire developers to follow suit in the meantime.

Pawleys Market developers Stan Harpe and Ron Swinson said they were willing to cooperate with the county, but their tenants expected to have internally lighted signs on Highway 17 like their competitors. “We tried to design signs with a Lowcountry look that match the look of the buildings,” Harpe said. “Our anchor tenant’s folks have their thoughts about how signs should look. We’re here to cooperate, but you can see the forces pulling on us. We’ve got a big-time investment.”

Despite his tenants’ desire for bigger, brighter signs near Highway 17, Harpe said developers would control the design.

Henry said the lot at the South Causeway has a ton of history, and opposition to a Lowe’s Home Improvement center there eight years ago inspired the formation of the group Don’t Box The Neck. “Every concern we’ve pitched your way,” Henry told Harpe and Swinson, “you’ve been a great developer. We appreciate your working with the county, community and everybody else.”

Henry said he wants the planning commission to embark on an update of the Waccamaw Neck sign ordinance. Signs are a “total mismatch” in many places, he said. “We’re at a crossroads with this development. It’s the Wild, Wild West on Highway 17 when it comes to signs.”

Henry said he realized that Pawleys Island is not going to look like Hilton Head, but he would like to see a trend toward resort-style signs illuminated externally.

“No one wants to make you the poster child,” Henry said to the developers.

“Too late,” Swinson replied.

The developers said they had no intention of proposing internally lighted plastic signs for Pawleys Market and promised “classy signs” that show up well day or night. Harpe said he worried that developers of Pawleys Plaza will be able to take advantage of the county sign ordinance for its anchor store, Publix, the way they convinced the Architectural Review Board to approve a roof variance that saved a half-million dollars.

“He’s got time,” Harpe said. “He could come back on the signs, and you don’t have an ordinance in place to stop him. Give us the option to do that.”

Planning commissioners will treat Pawleys Plaza’s developers the same, Henry promised, because it too is a “planned development” requiring step-by-step county approval. “We need to be responsible about developing the corridor,” he said. “We have an opportunity to do the right thing. I think you guys do an attractive job. Can’t we give external lighting a go?’

Harpe proposed a variety of alternatives including a hybrid sign with internal lighting for his two major tenants, Lowes Foods and Dollar Tree, and external lighting on the others. He promised an externally lighted sign on the side of the development facing the South Causeway to limit light pollution for residential neighbors. “That’s my gift to you guys,” he said.

Lighting was an issue on the other signs, a 25-foot main panel, a 15-foot secondary sign and six smaller ones. “The guy paying the rent needs illumination,” Harpe said.

Through a coincidence, developers and commissioners got some unexpected professional advice. John Roegge of Hilton Displays was waiting on his own sign variance for a Bi-Lo store that is replacing the Piggly Wiggly at Woodside Village in Murrells Inlet. Roegge volunteered a potential compromise: routed aluminum. “Only the copy would be illuminated,” he said, “not one big box of lighting. It’s subtle, tasteful.”

Planners like the idea and were unanimous in voting to approve internally lighted aluminum signs with routed lettering and logos.

Swinson offered a further potential compromise. If designers can make all the development’s signs with external lighting, would commissioners allow that “higher bar” without the delay of additional hearings?

They would, Henry said. “Let’s keep the lines of communication open,” he added.

Planners later agreed to allow Roegge to replace the 72-inch Piggly Wiggly sign on the Woodside Village grocery store with a similar sized Bi-Lo sign. The larger letters for Piggly Wiggly were approved by mistake years ago — they should have been only 36 inches tall — but planners said the larger letters provide a better sense of proportion.

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