Friday, September 28, 2012
UPDATE — The fate of Pawleys Plaza is in the hands of Georgetown County Council.
Georgetown County Planning Director Boyd Johnson presented the proposal to the Georgetown County Planning Commission on Thursday night, and recommended that the rezoning be approved.
The Planning Commission, after four-and-a-half hours of public comments and discussion, voted 4-1 to send the rezoning proposal to County Council for approval with one change: No store over 60,000 square feet, which is what's allowed in the Waccamaw Neck overlay district.
Council can agree to the recommendation, make changes to it or deny it.
Sunbelt Ventures in Mount Pleasant wants to expand and redevelop the plaza, and build a 119,500-sqaure-foot store for a national retailer.
Opponents and proponents packed the 600-seat auditorium at Waccamaw High School for Thursday’s meeting.
Late arrivals were sent to the school’s cafeteria where they could watch the meeting on television.
There was seating for about 500 in the cafeteria.
One estimate by a school administrator was that there were 1,400 people in the school for the meeting.
Green-clad Don’t Box the Neck members were out in force in front of the school, passing out bumper stickers, signs and balloons.
Johnson spent nearly an hour presenting the proposal to the commissioners, ending with the staff recommendation that the rezoning be approved.
Sunbelt then spent about 15 minutes discussing the plan before the public got a chance to give their input.
Ninety people signed up to speak.
Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis, wearing a “Don’t Box the Neck” T-shirt, said one big box store would be “just the tip of the iceberg” and more would surely follow.
Bunny Rodrigues, owner of the Gullah Ooman Museum in Pawleys Island, wants to see the plaza redeveloped.
Rodrigues reminded people that at one time Georgetown was 90 percent
black and said now it’s only about 10 percent black.
She said black people have been “boxed out” and forced off the island because they can’t find work.
Rumors of Walmart
Sunbelt representatives have consistently denied that they have a commitment from any tenants, but rumors of a Walmart being built at the plaza fueled the Don’t Box the Neck movement.
Johnson said he was the first to say the “W word,” but he assured audience members that the county doesn’t know who the tenant will be.
He also pointed out that the new big box store would be 440 feet across the front.
In comparison, the Georgetown Walmart is about 600 feet across the front.
In its recommendation, Planning staff made it clear that the project “would not be viewed favorably” if it had been proposed for undeveloped land.
Johnson told the crowd the Planning staff does not take into consideration what effect a new development would have on surrounding businesses.
Glenda Shoulette, commissioner from Councilman Jerry Oakley’s district, wondered why the county wasn’t requiring multi-use paths to connect to the bike path, which will eventually be running down Waverly Road.
Gray Taylor, a lawyer for the developer, said they would be willing to address that.
A last minute addition by the Planning staff was the synchronization of the new traffic light at Petigru Drive with the existing traffic light at Waverly Road.
The Coastal Conservation League and the South Carolina Environmental Law Project held a press conference at the school before the meeting.
Representatives from both groups urged County Council to deny the rezoning and said they would consider legal action if the plan is approved.
“The proposed PD revision is entirely inconsistent with the overlay zone,” said Amy Armstrong, senior attorney at the Law Project.
“All commercially zoned land with frontage on Highway 17, including developments visible from Highway 17, have to meet the 45,000-square-foot limitation.”
According to the county’s zoning ordinance, “the Waccamaw Neck Commercial Corridor Overlay Zone shall consist of all commercially zoned lands which have frontage on Ocean Highway (US Highway 17).”
Johnson said the Planning Commission and County Council have the authority to adjust the rules for a Planned Development.
“Waccamaw Neck residents successfully stopped a ‘big box’ store in
2005,” said SueAnn Crawford of Don’t Box the Neck.
“The County placed an overlay zone along Highway 17 that we thought would keep super stores out of the area and protect our local businesses, but here we are fighting another one.”
The plan now goes to County Council, which will give it first reading by title only on Oct. 9.
A discussion and second vote will take place on Oct. 23, with a final vote on Nov. 13.
Watch for Wednesday's follow-up story with more information on the lengthy meeting.
By Chris Sokoloski