Developer asks for extra month to refine plan to overhaul Pawleys Island shopping center

The company that wants to redevelop a Pawleys Island shopping center has asked for a one-month delay before the plan heads to Georgetown County Council so the firm can refine the project.

The plan to overhaul Pawleys Island Plaza was scheduled to have its first reading by the county council next week, but county spokeswoman Jackie Broach said Tuesday that it was now scheduled for Nov. 13, at the developer’s request. The project must go before the council three times.

Sunbelt Ventures LLC, which had proposed overhauling the half-empty shopping center with a big box store, said it asked for the extra time so it could refine the tenant mix and design based on input from residents and partners, meet with stakeholders including the “Don’t Box the Neck” group that has vocally opposed the plan and try to resolve different interpretations of county zoning ordinances so the county doesn’t get sued.

“All these efforts are in anticipation of making the redevelopment project a win-win for all of Georgetown County,” Ashley Jolly, a spokeswoman for Mount Pleasant-based Sunbelt Ventures, said in an email.

The delay comes nearly two weeks after the Georgetown County Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of the project under the condition that it complies with the rules for the Waccamaw Neck Commercial Corridor Overlay Zone, which would limit the new building’s size to 60,000 square feet -- about half the size Sunbelt had proposed.

Sunbelt wanted to demolish the existing building and build a 119,500-square-foot building, which would have sit just outside the overlay zone and wouldn’t have to adhere to that 60,000-square-foot limit. The project also included three commercial outparcels, each just shy of about 10,000 square feet. Sunbelt has talked to Wal-Mart about being part of the project, but the retailer hasn’t signed on yet.

Between 1,200 and 1,400 residents attended the planning commission’s meeting Sept. 20 at Waccamaw High School, which lasted more than four hours. Some opponents left the meeting celebrating the commission’s decision because it would shrink the size of the building allowed to be built, if the Georgetown County Council goes along with the planning commission’s recommendation.

“We are trying to be responsive to that and we felt the project would be better suited taking some time looking at what the options are,” Dusty Wiederhold with Sunbelt Ventures said Tuesday.

The proposal had sparked vocal opposition from residents in and around Pawleys Island, who said a big box store would hurt the smaller locally owned businesses, create traffic problems and take away from the area’s charm. They created a Facebook page and online petition.

Some of the same residents of the Waccamaw Neck area, through a group known as “Don’t Box the Neck,” successfully kept a Lowe’s Home Improvement store from opening in the area seven years ago.

Still, other residents, though in the minority, said they would welcome a Wal-Mart because it would be more convenient than traveling 12 to 15 miles to the nearest Wal-Marts in Georgetown or Garden City Beach, especially with gas prices as high as they are.

Sunbelt, which focuses on acquiring and redeveloping bank-owned or rundown commercial centers like this one, owns the shopping center and will redevelop it, Wiederhold said.

“It can’t stay the way it is,” he said. “Something has to happen.”