Pawleys Island Community speaks out against plaza redevelopment

A big-box store could be coming to Pawleys Island despite the protests of residents who spoke out, almost entirely, against plans to redevelop Pawleys Plaza discussed at the Georgetown County Planning Commission meeting Thursday.

The commission voted 4-1 to let the redevelopment move forward with limits.

It was standing room only in the cafeteria at Waccamaw High School where the overflow crowd from the auditorium watched the planning commission meet on video streaming from a projector. Inside the auditorium, 90 people signed up to speak during public comment, and most of them opposed a potential Wal-Mart.

“I would ask this distinguished body to be real careful of approving the increase of footage for buildings in this area whether you call it a big box or a little box,” said Bill Murray, who “migrated from Sandy Island” to the Waccamaw neck.

Mount Pleasant-based Sunbelt Ventures acquired the Pawleys Plaza in July and has hopes to redevelop the property and increase the size to allow for an anchor store.

Outspoken residents like Murray are worried about a big box store coming to the community. The same residents successfully prevented the construction of a Lowes Home Improvement store about seven years ago with the “Don’t Box the Neck” efforts that have been revitalized following the current redevelopment discussions.

Dusty Wiederhold, with Sunbelt, said the company has been in discussions with Wal-Mart, but no new tenants have signed on.

“I think I was the first one that used the ‘W’ word,” said Boyd Johnson, planning director for Georgetown County about the Wal-Mart rumors. “Truth is, we don’t know who the tenant is. We really don’t.”

Johnson compared the redevelopment plans to other recently approved or completed projects. He was booed when he mentioned the Dollar General store on U.S. 17.

The plans for Pawleys Plaza include traffic changes to Petigru Drive and Waverly Road.

Gray Taylor, with Sunbelt Ventures, said the shopping center, about 27 years old, isn’t charming or quaint and doesn’t fit in with the reputation of Pawleys Island right now. He said it’s about 40 percent occupied and the low number of businesses isn’t helping the economy of the area.

But Pawleys Island Mayor Bill Otis said the plans would change the culture of the community for the worse.

“This one act has the ability to destroy that [reputation],” Otis said. The town passed a resolution opposing the redevelopment in August.

Taylor wanted the Planning Commission to approve an increase of the largest building size from 84,300 square feet to 119,000 square feet that he said is more desirable for an anchor store. Additionally, Sunbelt wants to increase the entire size of the plaza by about 5 acres, which Taylor said is predominantly to enable improvements to the roadways, including traffic signals and turn lanes, and enough space to add the vegetative buffer.

The redevelopment would cost $20 million and Sunbelt said it could create 200 to 300 jobs.

Mike Wooten, with DDC Engineers, said there would be clean up involved in the project. Two retention ponds would be removed, but it wasn’t clear how runoff would be handled in place of the ponds. Wooten said water headed into Pawleys Creek would be cleaned up. Currently there are no mechanisms to purify runoff water headed to the creek.

Additionally, contamination from a dry cleaning spill several years ago will be cleaned up, Wooten said.

With 3,182 signatures on paper and 2,065 digitally, Pawleys Island residents collectively yelled a resounding “No,” though a few felt differently.

Bunny Rodrigues, who operates the Gullah Museum, said she’s in favor of it and the jobs are needed to prevent further boxing out of people like her. She said nobody stood up for the Gullah people that she’s descendent of.

She wasn’t alone.

“I’ve heard a lot today of who is against this, but did you think of the whole community?” Alice Young asked. “When you start making decisions of what’s going on in Pawleys Island, think about all of it.”

Young said black people in the community were boxed in, and nobody was there to help her when a hotel was constructed in front of her home. Finding jobs in Pawleys Island, she said, isn’t easy for everyone and shopping is too expensive for some of the residents.

“No business can change Pawleys Island, only the people can change Pawleys Island,” she said. “Consider all the people, not just a handful”

Sunbelt, according to their website, also redeveloped Inlet Square Mall.

The possible businesses for Pawleys Plaza include a grocery store, drug store, professional services and office space. It does not allow for automobile parts, though a NAPA autoparts store is currently a tenant.