Home improvement giant Lowe’s is probably used to nailing down its plans without much community resistance, but on Pawleys Island, South Carolina, this week, it was the residents who did the hammering. According to local residents, the first Planning Commission meeting this past Thursday was “a ray of hope!” Here’s their report: “The Planning Commission meeting was the first of several steps. After over 4 hours with over 1,000 people in attendance (standing room only) and 73 speakers of which only 8 were in favor of the rezoning of the 45,000 square foot limit, the Planning Commission voted to deny Lowe’s rezoning request.” The vote of the Georgetown County Planning Commission was 5-1 to deny the rezoning of nearly 19 acres of land. The Waccamaw Neck overlay zone that Lowe’s wanted to change has a current limit on store size of 45,000 s.f. in order to maintain the character and scale of the built environment. According to the local newspaper, Planning Commissioners heard a “resounding public sentiment against a Lowe’s.” The home improvement store’s plans are for a 169,000 s.f. store — almost four times the size of the current cap on retail size in the county. Lowe’s was seeking to get around the cap by presenting its proposal as a Planned Development. Residents testified that the project would have an adverse impact on the character and unique nature of Pawleys Island. What few Lowe’s supporters testified, mainly tried to use economic arguments about jobs and taxes to bolster the need to throw existing land use rules out the window. But Lowe’s opponents pointed out that Lowe’s would not bring new jobs — but just transfers of people from one employer to another. The Commission’s vote against Lowe’s is only in the form of a recommendation to the County Commissioners, who have the final say. Residents have vowed to turn out in large number on April 12th. when the County is likely to make its decision.
The existence of a Planned Development does not, per se, justify county officials to approve of a land use that completely violates the underlying zone. In this case, the Waccamaw Neck overlay zone is very clear about the desire to limit store size. This cap was in place before Lowe’s came. The company can read a zoning map as well as anyone. Rather than trying to honor the county’s official designation of the land, Lowe’s instead decided to try to force an oversized store into the wrong area. So far, the good people of Pawleys Island aren’t buying it. The County can simply reject the plan as being too intense for the site, and inharmonious with the county’s comprehensive plan and overlay district. For local contacts on Pawleys Island, email [email protected], and search by the island’s name for earlier stories.