0 to 182 units? Commission says no, 5-0
Swapping 167,000 square feet of planned commercial development at Pawleys Island for 182 apartments would run counter to the goals of Georgetown County’s future land-use plan, members of the Planning Commission say.
The commission voted 5-0 last week against a zoning change to allow residential development on 14.4 acres on Petigru Drive that the county bought in 2016 for a tech park. The county planned to partner with the tech firm Mercom on the project, but had to look for other partners after the firm ran into financial problems in 2018.
The nonprofit Georgetown County Economic Development Alliance received a $950,000 loan from Santee Cooper to fund the purchase. After rejecting an offer from Graycliff Capital Partners to buy the property last fall, the alliance board decided earlier this year to recommend the sale. Graycliff offered $1.38 million for the property.
“This site, as is, right now is zoned for 167,000 feet of office space,” Seth Peterson, Graycliff’s development director, told the commission. “It’s high density right now.”
The change to residential use would reduce the number of daily car trips, increase the amount of open space and retain more trees, he said.
“We’re trying to provide what we consider is a better option for the community,” Peterson said.
The commission deferred a vote on the project last month to get more information about the traffic study commissioned by Graycliff and its stormwater plans.
Walter Warren, an engineer with Thomas and Hutton, said the apartment project would have better storage capacity for stormwater than the commercial project, for which a plan had already been approved.
“We talk about density versus intensity,” Warren said.
Stuart Day, a traffic engineer, with Stantec, said traffic would be reduced from 2,448 daily trips to 1,062 daily trips with residential development. He projected about half of the peak traffic would get to Highway 17 along Commerce Drive rather than the heavily traveled Waverly and Martin Luther King roads.
“I don’t agree with that,” commission member Sandra Bundy said.
Commission member Robert Davis said it was important to look at how the project would add to traffic on the highway itself. “I don’t think it’s a true traffic study,” he said.
Bundy also questioned Graycliff about its development of the Waterleaf apartment complex in Murrells Inlet, where the county fined the firm $13,500 after 71 protected trees were cut in 2017. The fine was later dropped and a replanting plan approved.
“It was quite disturbing,” Bundy said.
“A mistake was made,” said Paul Aiesi, a principal in Graycliff. He added that every landmark tree on the inlet site was saved.
Bundy moved to recommend County Council deny the rezoning request. She cited the goal in the future land-use plan to “limit the number of new residential units that are added.”
Commission member Zach Grate, who seconded the motion, said afterward he agreed that the county needs to support that goal.
Davis and commission members Zannie Graham and Freddie Hill voted in favor. Elizabeth Krauss, who chairs the commission, abstained. She is the director of the county Board of Disabilities and Special Needs, which owns two houses adjacent to the site.
Commission member Johnny Weaver recused himself. He is a real estate agent with the Litchfield Co. and the sale to Graycliff is being brokered by the Lachicotte Co., which is owned by the Litchfield Co.
“High density was the wrong way to go right now,” Hill said after the vote.
He was in the minority last month in supporting site plan approval for 115 multifamily units in Murrells Inlet. The difference, Hill said, was that the inlet site was already zoned for high density residential development.
“We didn’t have any choice,” he said.
The commission’s vote came after months of hearing area residents cite concerns over increasing the number of housing units on Waccamaw Neck.
Duane Draper of Litchfield Country Club called the comparison of the impact of the apartment complex to the office park “a false narrative.” The development’s traffic and stormwater impacts should be compared to the vacant tract, he said.
Cindy Person, a leader of the citizens group Keep It Green, agreed. She also cited county zoning rules that should have required the property to revert from its current “planned development” zoning classification to its previous “forest and agriculture” zoning since the approved development never started.
Johnny Ford, a pastor who lives down the street from the site, told the commission that after the first hearing on the project “the one thing that stuck with me was the traffic study. That really disappointed me.”
He remembered that when Pawleys Island Plaza was redeveloped with Publix supermarket he was told there wouldn’t be any impact on traffic. On sale days, “I have to wait for 10 or 12 cars” to get out of his driveway, he said.
The project got support from Tim Tilley, a former chairman of the Economic Development Alliance and owner of a manufacturing firm in Georgetown. He said there is a need for the rental housing that Graycliff proposes.
“Nobody’s going to live in Georgetown. I’m sorry, but it’s not attractive. It’s trashy. It’s not well taken care of,” he said.
After listening to the opponents, Tilley said, “this is crazy. These people are just selfish. They moved here from somewhere else. They don’t want anyone else to live here. They want it to stay exactly like it is because they made their career and livelihood elsewhere, not in Georgetown County.”
The rezoning request now goes to County Council.