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Growth: ‘Downtown’ property owners willing to change
By Charles Swenson
If the community adopts a goal of creating a traditional downtown for the Pawleys Island area, the final product won’t be the work of a single developer, but dozens of individual property owners who will be encouraged to embrace the concept through new zoning rules. “If you set the tone, people will buy in,” said John Sands, who organized a series of forums that led to the creation of a conceptual plan that shows how a commercial area along Tiller Drive west of Highway 17 could be redeveloped as a downtown. “There has to be a supportive regulatory environment that will encourage developers to move in the desired direction.”
There also has to be support from the property owners. Several who saw the conceptual plan said they liked the look, but also wondered how their existing businesses fit into the big picture. “A downtown for Pawleys Island would be fabulous,” said Jean Rothrock, owner of Waccamaw Landscaping on Petigru Drive and the former Waccamaw Library building on Commerce Drive. “We definitely need something to set us apart.”
The area that is the focus of the conceptual plan is currently zoned to attract service businesses. There is a lumber yard, a plant nursery, warehouses, a Montessori school and the Mercom technology firm. (The Coastal Observer office is also in the area.)
“I don’t know where the tradesmen would go,” said Jim Bindner, a real estate broker with the Litchfield Co. who owns a warehouse next to Cohen’s Drywall. “Where do the services go?”
“Businesses like mine would need a business park somewhere else,” Rothrock said. But that could be one of the things that Georgetown County could do if it wants to create an incentive for redevelopment of the area, she added.
Rothrock did the landscaping for Pobuckra Properties, which owns the commercial property along Highway 17 from Waverly Road north to Professional Lane, including the Island Shops and the Downtown Pawleys shops. The goal was to create a unified look that set it apart from other properties that front the highway. “A core area would be fabulous,” she said.
Bindner agreed. “I’m always positive for beautification,” he said. “I’d say it’s a great idea.”
Brewster Buck owns Island Floors at the corner of Tiller and Library Lane. He couldn’t help but notice that his building goes away in the redevelopment plan and is replaced by a row of shops and houses that front on a plaza. “I like being dead in the center because they’ll need my spot,” he said.
But more significant to Buck was the parallel rows of oak trees that also seem to go away. Those were planted to commemorate George Washington’s visit in 1791, he said, and others from that era have already fallen victim to growth. “I really just hate these trees going,” Buck said. “They talk about the heart of the community, but where is the soul of Pawleys. Some of that has to do with our history.”
But as a concept, Buck thinks it’s a good plan. “I would favor it if there’s a way to commemorate our history,” he said.
Next door to Island Floors, Joan Hodges looked out the window of her accounting firm at a wood duck swimming in a pond. “It would break my heart to lose the landscape,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s worth the trade-off.”
Her first reaction at the concept plan wasn’t favorable. “It looks horrible to me. I’m so sorry to say that,” Hodges said.
But she was more accepting of the idea that it would come about over time, not as a shovel-ready project. Hodges recalled that she didn’t go to Hardee’s, the area’s first fast-food restaurant, for three years after it opened. “I love things the way they are,” she said. To accomplish the redevelopment to a traditional downtown would require Georgetown County to adopt a concept called “form-based zoning” that focuses on the outcome rather than the specific land uses. Beaufort County already has that. “It takes a lot of willpower to do this. It also takes a lot of expertise,” said Boyd Johnson, Georgetown County’s planning director. “It’s interesting that people are thinking this way. Our current method of zoning is kind of promoting sprawl.”
Guerry Green, who owns the former Santee Cooper office and another building on Tiller, agrees the area needs a central focus. “It’s just one long line along Highway 17 of commercial,” he said.
The long-term approach, driven in part by the diverse ownership, makes sense. It would be hard for anyone to buy up enough properties to do it on their own, Green said. Bindner wondered if rising property values are already a bar to redevelopment.
“You lay the groundwork now,” Green said. “One thing I like about real estate is it’s recyclable.”
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