St. Helena preservationists fight Publix's store plans

October 8, 2007 

ST. HELENA ISLAND -- Community activists on St. Helena Island have initiated a letter-writing campaign asking Publix Supermarkets to reconsider plans to build a shopping center.

A plan was brought to the county in August for Publix and nine other stores to occupy a 9.2-acre wooded site near the northwest corner of Sea Island Parkway and Polowana Road. The Publix would comprise 39,600 square feet, while the other stores would total 18,000 square feet.

"This project is not simply a supermarket, it's 10 stores and a massive Publix larger than the one on Lady's Island," said Marquetta Goodwine, spokeswoman of the Gullah-Geechee people of the Sea Islands. She believes the store on Lady's Island, about 4 miles west of the proposed St. Helena location, could be expanded instead to meet its area customers' needs.

A unique Cultural Protection Overlay District was established on St. Helena Island in 1999 to prevent development that would detract from the island's historic character. The Corners community, where the new Publix is proposed, is zoned to permit a grocery store of up to 40,000 square feet, according the overlay district.

But some people who were involved in creating the overlay district say it was not supposed to allow national chains like Publix.

"The (district) was designed for community preservation, not corporate or franchise businesses, but to encourage economic development for local citizens," said Goodwine, who was chairwoman of a committee that helped draft the ordinance.

County Councilman Bill McBride, who represents St. Helena Island, however, said federal commerce regulations prevent the county from prohibiting national chains.

"We can't say a Piggly Wiggly or a Publix can't come onto the island. That's illegal," he said. "All we can do is address what the building looks like."

McBride added that building a supermarket on St. Helena Island would provide employment opportunities, reduce traffic on U.S. 21 and create a convenient shopping option for people without cars.

"I have reliable transportation, so I can easily stop in town or go to Lady's Island to go to a supermarket, but right now I have people driving from St. Helena to the Bluffton/Hilton Head area to perform jobs in supermarkets ... and people who have to hire somebody to take them to the store (for shopping)," he said. "I think some people opposing the Publix are being selfish and not thinking of the whole community."

A spokesman for Publix could not be reached for comment.

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