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Walmart: Project passes without big-box store

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

After nearly five hours of talk, the Georgetown County Planning Commission voted to approve a plan to redevelop Pawleys Island Plaza, but with the condition that the project adheres to the building size limit that the developers sought to avoid.

Sunbelt Ventures wants to increase the property included in the shopping center on Highway 17 and increase the amount of retail space, including a 119,500-square-foot building. The developers say Wal-Mart is interested in the project, but has not committed.

The hearing drew about 1,300 people to Waccamaw High School, where a capacity crowd of 625 people filled the auditorium and principal David Hammel estimated 700 people watched a video feed in the cafeteria.

Out of 90 people who signed up to speak, 54 eventually made it to the microphones. Many talked about the impacts a Walmart store would have on the character of the area and its small businesses. But the argument before the commission turned on the language of the zoning ordinance and an “overlay zone” that sets design standards and size limits for commercial buildings along Highway 17.

The zone extends 500 feet from the highway, and Sunbelt sited the proposed big-box store outside that boundary. However, the ordinance says the rules apply if a development is “visible from U.S. Highway 17.”

Commission chairman Brian Henry asked if the store proposed by Sunbelt would be visible from the highway. “Technically? Possibly,” said Gray Taylor, attorney for Sunbelt.

Commission member Glenda Shoulette said the building, which will be 440 feet wide, will be visible and so must comply with the size limit. That’s 45,000 square feet, but up to 60,000 square feet can be approved in a “planned development” zoning district such as Pawleys Island Plaza.

Shoulette moved to deny the request. No one offered a second, so Henry polled the other three commission members to see if they objected to the motion. None did, so he offered a second. It failed 2-3.

Henry and Shoulette represent the Waccamaw Neck on the commission. Norma Grant, Glen Stafford and Marvin Neal represent council districts west of the Waccamaw River. There is one vacant seat on the commission and one other member was absent.

Neal moved to approve the project, but said it should meet the requirements of the overlay zone, “as described by staff and written in the ordinance.”

Boyd Johnson, the planning director, said that would follow the staff recommendation to allow the big-box store. Henry disagreed. He asked Neal to restate the motion and Neal explained that it was for approval “without any exceptions to the overlay zone for Waccamaw Neck.”

The vote was 4-1.

The issue now goes to County Council, which will give the recommendation initial approval on Oct. 9 if it follows its usual procedure. It will be up for discussion, and possible changes, at the Oct. 23 meeting.

Read about the hearing as it happened: At the Planning Commission

Read other articles about the project: Pawleys Island and Walmart

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