011818 Growth: Forum outlines vision for ‘downtown’ development
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Joseph Grate talks about the lack of diversity in the planning process.

Growth: Forum outlines vision for ‘downtown’ development

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

One man waited patiently to pose his question at last week’s forum on Waccamaw Neck growth. He wasn’t able to catch the moderator’s attention until the end of a 90-minute session.

“Where is downtown Pawleys?” he asked.

“There is no downtown Pawleys, and that is the point,” said John Sands, who led the discussions. “Could we create a downtown Pawleys, and is there a value to that?”

The forum was the last of a series started last year by Sands, who worked in land conservation for the Donnelley Foundation, as a way to get residents involved in planning the Waccamaw Neck’s future at a time when Georgetown County is conducting a 10-year update of its land-use plan. After taking input on what people value and what concerns them, Victor Dover, principal in a Miami-based land planning firm, conducted a workshop in October that asked participants to draw out their vision of the future on maps. From the comments and images, Dover created a concept for “downtown Pawleys,” and overlaid it on existing development west of Highway 17 along Tiller Drive.

Dover, Kohl & Partners is one of the major proponents of “new urbanism,” which promotes traditional models of mixed-use development in new projects. It focused on the Tiller Drive area because it is close to existing housing, the Fresh Market grocery store, shops and the post office. The county is planning a technology park nearby as part of the expansion of Mercom. “If you think of redevelopment, then you’ve got a lot of room to play with,” Sands said. “This seems like a site where there might be a lot of room to play with.”

The concept doesn’t focus on the uses, but the character of the area. It is one where buildings are close together and residential and commercial spaces are close to one another. “It’s a lot more compact, a lot more walkable than the kinds of things we’re building now. It’s not dominated by parking lots. It’s dominated by trees and walkablility,” Sands said.

The concept was generally well-received by about 80 people who attended the forum.

Ian Jacob, who owns a house at North Litchfield, wondered why the Highway 17 corridor couldn’t become a “downtown.” “What you’ve done here is very nice, but it’s sort of an island community again,” he told Sands. “Anyone over in the Hammock Shops is going to take their life in their hands to cross the street to visit the walkable community.” Previous forums identified Highway 17 as a source of concern and future redevelopment. But Sands said that is likely to be even farther in the future than redevelopment off the highway. Dover told him “you’re choosing a hard battle as your first battle” if you try to work on Highway 17, Sands said. “It may be you should work around the fringes and accomplish some things.”

Gary Weinreich of Murrells Inlet took part in a similar effort in Greenville years ago. The important part of that process was developing a common vision, he said. “This gives me hope.” Weinreich added, “it seems like all the conflicts we have over parking, expansion, is just because we don’t have a common vision.”

To achieve the kind of redevelopment contained in the Dover, Kohl conceptual plan would require changes to the county zoning ordinance. Rather than regulating uses, the code would focus on the character of the community. “The design emphasis is on development of the overall character of the space, on building an environment rather than trying to fit into some predefined set of methods,” Sands said. Known as form-based zoning, “you worry more about the end result. What do you want this place to look like?”

And that goes back to vision. “I think there’s starting to be some momentum,” said Pam Martin, a professor at Coastal Carolina University and leader of the sustainable development effort that is part of a United Nations Regional Center for Expertise. She has talked with county officials about the “visioning process.” “If they don’t hear from people, they don’t really know what we want,” Martin said.

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