Pawleys Island, S.C. Wal-Mart Suffers Initial Setback
The "Don't Box The Neck" citizen's group in Pawleys Island, South Carolina reports this week that developers have lost the first round of a battle in their small community. Here's their report:
"The developer, Sunbelt Ventures out of Mount Pleasant South Carolina, submitted a planned development re-zoning request to accommodate a 119,500 s.f. store with an "un-named" tenant as well as a traffic impact analysis that was a joke. We blew them away last night.
After a harrowing, short 1 1/2 month preparation time, Don't Box The Neck organized an effort that brought 1,400 people to the Planning Commission hearing last night. The largest venue in our community, the high school auditorium, which seats 625, was packed. The overflow area, the cafeteria -- which seats 400 maximum -- was packed in like sardines to watch on a screen.
After 5 hours of meeting format and 54 speakers (90 signed up, but some left early), the Planning Commission voted 4-1 to allow the project only within our existing ordinance, which states that no building shall be over 45,000 s.f. except in an approved Planned Development, 60,000 s.f.
We have County Council readings next, starting October 23rd; but we think they got the message."
But the game is far from over. According to the Coastal Observer newspaper, Sunbelt Ventures has indicated that Wal-Mart is interested in the project, but as it often does, a firm commitment was not revealed to the public. The developer has indicated that it was Wal-Mart that first stimulated the Sunbelt to look for a site in Georgetown and Horry countie -- but it started off as a hunt for a Neighborhood Market grocery store, which is closer to the 40,000 s.f. range.
At some point Wal-Mart expanded the search to be for a larger big box. Wal-Mart often wants to remain hidden during these debates. The company did tell the Observer it was "certainly interested in South Carolina and the Pawleys Island area," but added this disclaimer: "we don't have any specific plans to announce." That is hardly a denial, just a matter of public relations timing.
But the group Don't Box The Neck was not confused. This same group contacted Sprawl-Busters in 2005 during their successful campaign to stop a Lowe's store from opening on Pawleys Island. At the Planning Commission hearing this past week, speakers were obviously addressing Wal-Mart, and they testified that Wal-Mart would have a negative impact on the character of Pawleys Island and on the small businesses community.
The land in question is in an overlay zone that has design standards and size limitations for commercial buildings. The Sunbelt development would significantly expand an existing retail plaza by adding adjacent property and increasing the overall development capacity. The overlay zone only extends 500 feet from the road, so the developer tried to escape its provisions by setting the store back on the property beyond the overlay.
But the ordinance says the overlay applies if the development is "visible from U.S. Highway 17." During the hearing, the developer admitted the huge store "possibly" would be visible from the highway. Under the overlay rules, the building could be as large as 60,000 s.f.
After two motions to kill the project failed, the Planning Commission voted to approve the project with no exceptions to the overlay zone -- which means a 119,000 s.f. store is out of the running. That voted was 4-1. But now the decision shifts over to the County Council on October 9th, with a final decision due on October 23rd.
What you can do: The County's Planning Director told the Observer newspaper that he would not recommend denying the project. "Flat out denial? We're not doing that," said Boyd Johnson, the county's planning director. In a classic case of double-speak, Johnson added, "A big-box has already been approved for this site, but not as big a box," Johnson said.
Readers are urged to email Bob Anderson, Georgetown Council Council District 6 representative. Anderson lives in, and represents, Pawleys Island. He can be reached at this address: BobAnderson@gtcounty.org. Send him the following message:
Dear Councilor Anderson,
It was more than dramatic to see 1,400 residents of Pawleys Island turn out to oppose a big box store off Highway 17. You recall from the Lowe's debate that residents are not against growth, they are for compatible development for Pawleys Island. A big box of this scale is just incompatible with the Island.
This is one of the unique places in the state that should not be turned into a gateway for big box chain stores. That's why communities create overlay zones with design standards and size limits.
The testimony at the Planning Commission was very clear: Don't Box The Neck. More that 400 communities across America have won this same fight, just as Lowe's was turned back seven years ago.
Your constituents have spoken. Please honor their voice at the County Council hearing, by voting against any plan that allows more than a 45,000 s.f. store. Even that size -- which is more than an acre just for the store -- and the parking lot will be two to three times bigger -- is our of character with Pawleys Island.
You can't buy small town quality of life at any shelf at Wal-Mart -- but once they take it from you -- you can't buy it back at any price.