‘Big box’ stores’ benefits outlined

Ben Henrich, president of Henrich Properties, talks about the future of his Mount Pleasant project.

MOUNT PLEASANT — A controversial project to put three “big box” stores on 40 acres across from Towne Centre will improve drainage, create hundreds of jobs and fill town coffers with millions of dollars in new revenue, the developer said Thursday.

“It’s not the big, bad monster that everyone thinks that it is,” said Ben Henrich, president of Henrich Properties.

In response to a rising tide of opposition from adjacent neighborhoods, Henrich recently withdrew his application for town approval of the development.

He has since redesigned the project, making the buildings about 10 percent smaller. The result is 35,000 square feet less retail space, he said.

Also, Henrich has added more mature canopy trees to create additional buffer between nearby residents and the stores, which have been moved away from neighborhoods by an additional 30 feet to create an average 40-foot-wide buffer. An 8-foot-tall masonry wall around the property also will act as a buffer, he said.

Some ponds and pocket parks, bike trails and pedestrian walkways are part of the design.

“We’re doing far beyond what is required,” he said.

In June, Henrich plans to seek a town waiver of the yearlong wait time to resubmit his application for the project. The property is zoned for multifamily residential. Henrich plans to seek commercial re-zoning.

Henrich faces other issues such as a provision in the town zoning code that limits a retail building “footprint” to 70,000 square feet if it is part of a project on less than 50 acres. That could pose a problem for Henrich’s development because “The Gregg Tract” property he plans to buy is 40 acres, and two of the buildings he plans to build there are more than 100,000 square feet each. If all goes as planned, one will be a home improvement store and the other will be a wholesale retailer. The third 50,000-square-foot building would be a sporting goods store.

The Planning Commission and Town Council last July deleted the provision from the zoning code that would prohibit the two biggest buildings because it was deemed antiquated, but it was discovered recently to also exist in another part of the code. For that reason, the commission and council are being asked by town staff to delete the newly discovered provision to make the zoning code consistent.

But last week, a majority of the commission refused to again make the change in the zoning code, which means the relevant provision is still intact.

The issue goes to the Town Council Planning Committee next week.

“It certainly does affect our project. It’s become a referendum on our project,” Henrich said.

“We have to let it run its course and hope that what the town voted to do last July, they’ll stand by,” he said.

Town Council member Linda Page, who serves on the Council Planning Committee, said she has a lot of questions about the project. Last July, she voted to kill the 70,000-square-foot limit on buildings located on property under 50 acres. At the time, the general thinking was that the relevant section of the zoning code was outdated, but Page said she no longer feels that to be the case.

“I honestly believe I made a mistake and did not understand the ramifications,” she said.

She has a problem with the development because the town Comprehensive Plan calls for a project to be OK’d if it will not disturb an existing neighborhood. She has concerns about the impact of the project on neighborhoods such as Snee Farm, Wando Lakes and Wando East.

“I’m not 100 percent sold it’s the right place to put it,” she said.

There could be up to 300 trucks making deliveries, she noted. She has concerns about how other businesses would be affected by the presence of the new stores.

Snee Farm resident Pat Sullivan has many concerns about the project.

“Landscaping won’t cut it. The 8-foot-tall fence won’t cut it. I can’t imagine anything he could do to make drainage not an issue,” she said.

Big-box stores are “dying dinosaurs,” she said. The town already has two Walmarts and a K-Mart. Traffic concerns Sullivan.

“Doesn’t cut the mustard with me,” she said.