Median is top story of 2013

  • Monday, December 30, 2013

Provided photo Georgetown County celebrated the opening of two new recreation facilities on Waccamaw Neck in April. Baseball players cut the ribbon on Retreat Park, above, while later in the day members of County Council and the community cut the ribbon on the Waccamaw Regional Recreation Center.


Probably the most talked about issue on the Waccamaw Neck in 2013 was the median on U.S. Highway 17.

A plan by the South Carolina Department of Transportation to close the median along the 1.9-mile stretch of Pawleys Island’s Main Street, which is affectionately called the “suicide lane” by locals, rallied opponents in a similar fashion as the plan to put a Walmart in Pawleys Plaza did in 2012,

A year after SCDOT held public hearings on the project and unveiled its final plan, opponents started rallying the community against the project.

The Citizens Coalition for Ocean Highway was formed in February, and a very public “Don’t Strip the Neck” campaign began. Supporters were hoping for the same kind of success the “Don’t Box the Neck” group had in keeping Lowe’s Home Improvement and Walmart out of Pawleys Island.

Steve Goggans, co-founder of the coalition, began speaking to local property owners associations and at Grand Strand Transportation Study and County Council meetings. The group also hosted a public information meeting and a fundraiser.

The coalition hired its own traffic engineer to study the SCDOT plan and come up with an alternative. Goggans said the coalition would like the SCDOT plan delayed until its plan can be reviewed.

Don’t Strip the Neck members and supporters are adamant that their plan is better and safer.

County Council members Bob Anderson and Jerry Oakley are just as adamant that the SCDOT plan go forward.

Drivers could see work begin in the fall of this year.

Other stories making news in 2013 included:

Fallout continues from big-box fight

A plan to put a 119,500-square-foot Walmart in Pawleys Plaza, which dominated the news at the end of 2012, was settled in early 2013 when smaller stores were approved for the site.

County officials spent the year updating and closing loopholes in the Zoning Ordinance in an attempt to avoid dealing with the big-box issue on Waccamaw Neck again.

The county Architectural Review Board, which approved a variance on roof pitch requirements at the site, was quickly given the axe by County Council. Subsequently all references to an Architectural Review Board were erased from the Zoning Ordinance.

However, as the year came to a close, Council decided not to change the size limit on buildings in the Waccamaw Neck Commercial Corridor Overlay Zone, as many big-box opponents had hoped for.

“Seems to me what we have has worked,” said council member Jerry Oakley. “If it’s not broke don’t fix it.”

Fire destroys Jimmy Smith office

On March 3, fire destroyed the James W. Smith Real Estate office that had been in Litchfield since 1989.

The building was two stories and an attic.

Crews from Georgetown County, Georgetown City, Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire, Surfside Fire and Horry County Fire assisted with the call.

Midway Fire Chief Doug Eggiman said at least 45 firefighters were on the scene to assist.

In November, fire damaged a large part of Cohen Drywall on Petigru Drive.

About half of the building was damaged.

Two beloved citizens pass away

Pawleys Island lost Alan Altman and Ellen Donkle in 2013.

Altman was remembered as a successful businessman, a loving family man and a caring friend. He died of natural causes at age 55 in March.

Altman was a partner at Pawleys Island Realty which his father, Linwood, founded in the 1960s. The Georgetown Agency is a part of the family real estate business.

“Alan was a person everybody knew they could sit down and talk to and work with,” said Howard Ward, a long-time friend of Altman’s.

Donkle was the college counselor and athletic director at Lowcountry Prep School. She died after a long battle with cancer in July.

“Ellen’s steadfast dedication to serving those around her — our students, their families, and fellow members of the faculty and staff — was both humbling and exemplary,” said Headmaster Scott Gibson III.

“Her lesson to our students in how to take care of one’s neighbor was as critical a part of the education we provide our students as were our core courses,” he continued.

Donkle began her work at Lowcountry Preparatory School in 2003. She rapidly earned a reputation for making things happen.

Curry takes over at Waccamaw Middle

Jamie Curry, who had been assistant principal at Waccamaw High School for three years, was promoted to Waccamaw Middle School principal in July.

The decision to place Curry as head of the school was made after the sudden resignation of Mark Phillips, who had held the position only one year.

She began her career in 1993 as a teacher at Maryville Elementary School where, in 1996, she was named the school’s Teacher of the Year.

Bob Beebe charged with breach of trust

Former Midway Fire Rescue Public Information Officer Bob Beebe was arrested in May by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

According to SLED spokesman Thom Berry, Beebe was charged with breach of trust with fraudulent intent.

Berry said the charge alleges Beebe took “$10,000 or more” from the South Carolina Fire and Life Education Association. He was treasurer of the organization between May 2006 and March 2013.

During that time he allegedly took $36,000 from the organization.

Reality TV show brings controversy

As the summer wound down, controversy heated up as a California production company began filming a reality TV show in Murrells Inlet.

495 Productions arrived in August to spend about one month filming “The Dirty South” at Kings Krest.

Within days, complaints about excess noise and lights at the house, and obscene behavior and the use of profanity by cast members at area restaurants began to swirl.

A Facebook page, “We ‘Just Said NO’ to the Dirty South,” was created and within 24 hours had garnered nearly 1,500 comments.

Warren Stedman, who lives next to Kings Krest, took his complaints to the Georgetown County Board of Zoning Appeals in early September, hoping the board would overturn the permits the county issued to allow filming.

Stedman had to pay $500 for the appeal, which was denied. By that time filming had ceased.

The controversy did however spur Georgetown County Council to pass a Film Ordinance to regulate filming within the county.

The TV show, which was eventually renamed “Down South,” will debut on CMT on Jan. 16 at 10 p.m., the same time the latest season of “Myrtle Manor,” a reality TV show is set in Myrtle Beach, kicks off.

Man killed outside Pawleys bar

Two men were arrested in connection with the Feb. 9 death of 37-year-old Thomas “Jay” Unrue Jr. who died outside Lumpy’s Bar and Grill in Pawleys Island.

The two men accused in the beating death — Ronnie Gene Ackley Jr., 41, of Pawleys Island and Chris Brian Campbell, 37, of Lexington — are both charged with murder in the incident that took place at the bar at 9259 Ocean Highway at about 3:15 a.m.

A few weeks after the incident, the owner of Lumpy’s, Matthew Donald Kelly, 40, was charged with burglary and arson in connection with the Jan. 13 fire that took place at the law office of Toni Pennington, which is right next to Lumpy’s.

Pawleys island resident Joshua Pyatt, 21, was murdered during a carjacking in Myrtle Beach in June.

Staff writer Scott Harper contributed to this story.

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