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Walmart: Memories of 2005 hearing on Lowe’s remain fresh

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

That last time a public hearing was held for a big-box retail project at Pawleys Island, about 900 people filled the auditorium of the former Howard High School in Georgetown to see what the Georgetown County Planning Commission would decide.

“When I looked out, I didn’t see any empty seats. People were lined up against the walls,” said Lee Hewitt who chaired the commission for that meeting.

Now, when he looks out from the window of his office at Garden City Realty, where he is broker-in-charge, he see a Walmart. It took the place of grocery stores that were vacant for years, creating the sort of blight some people see at Pawleys Island Plaza. A hearing is scheduled today on a zoning change that could allow a 119,500-square-foot Walmart at the plaza.

“I’m glad it’s not me,” Hewitt said.

Today’s hearing, which starts at 5:30 p.m., will be held at the Waccamaw High School auditorium. It seats 625.

Hewitt said the process didn’t change because of the size of the crowd. “You look at the merit of the application,” he said. “I learned a lot of information that night.”

In 2005, the commission voted 5-1 not to recommend rezoning of a tract on Highway 17 at the South Causeway to allow a 168,000-square-foot Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse.

“That and the casino boats, those are the two most controversial issues” during his tenure, Hewitt said.

As chairman, his goal at the Lowe’s hearing was to make sure everyone got their say.

“It was important that each person was treated professionally,” he said. Also, “I was trying to makes sure that you didn’t have people continuously saying the same thing over and over.”

The Don’t Box the Neck group that opposed the Lowe’s rezoning – showing their opposition with T-shirts, hats and signs – has campaigned against the Pawleys Island Plaza rezoning.

“I think we’ll have a big turnout,” said SueAnn Crawford, who chairs the group. “I think the turnout does matter a lot.”

At the same time, it’s important that they be polite, she said.

At a meeting held by Sunbelt Ventures, the plaza developer, one written question asked if the company made any campaign contributions to County Council members, who will have the final say on the rezoning.

Crawford said she has heard similar things, calling the idea “stupid.”

Don’t Box the Neck is organizing its speakers to make a cohesive case against the rezoning, Crawford said.

The Planning Commission has one vacant seat and one member is out of town. Another works shifts and has not told staff if he will attend.

“It will be interesting to watch – from the outside,” Hewitt said.

Read more about the project: Pawleys Island and Walmart

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