The state has ordered Walmart to stop all road construction in Greater Bluffton after its recent installment of a median at the Kittie’s Corner shopping center drew fire from residents.
The median is across the street from the site where the retailer is currently building two stores.
Michael Black, a representative of the state Department of Transportation, said the retailer received an encroachment permit which gave it permission to work within the right of way. The median, SCDOT said, is not within that right of way.
Until the SCDOT can verify Walmart has an agreement with property owners, the retailer cannot continue right of way work needed for the new stores — a supercenter and a Sam’s Club — Black said Wednesday. That includes the right-hand turn from Fording Island Road onto Bluffton Road and the intersection between the construction site and Kittie’s Crossing, where a traffic light is planned.
The retailer was allowed to pave Tuesday night to address safety concerns on the street, but it is not permitted to continue any other work, according to Black.
Josh Gruber, the deputy county administrator, said the county required the Walmart site to be accessible by a signalized intersection before approving the development. He said if the traffic light was not built and approved by the time the construction of the supercenter and Sam’s Club was finished, the county could not issue the retailer a certificate of occupancy — meaning no one could enter the buildings.
“I would be very surprised if Walmart was not able to resolve this matter with the (Kittie’s Crossing) landowner before it gets to that point,” he said Wednesday.
The order comes after the retailer admitted Aug. 12 through a company spokesman that it built an elongated median at the Kittie’s Crossing Bluffton Road entrance in preparation for the traffic light.
Walmart does not own the property where the median is built, and Black has said SCDOT cannot give permission for the retailer to build on private property.
“The median is required by the S.C. Department of Transportation as part of the construction of our new store and nearby traffic light,” Phillip Keene, director of corporate communications for Walmart, wrote in the email Aug. 12. “We’re actively working with the primary property owner of the private drive near the median to address some concerns that have been brought to our attention. We hope to provide a further update soon.”
The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette received the statement from Louise Dixon, president of public relations at Chernoff Newman in Charlotte, on behalf of Keene, Walmart’s spokesman.
When asked whether Walmart had permission to build the median last week, Dixon said she is not a spokeswoman for Walmart. However, she said, it is one of the issues being discussed.
Keene said Walmart was in the process of drafting a statement Wednesday afternoon. It had not arrived by press time.
The question remains whether Walmart had permission from the property owners to build the median.
The land in question is owned by North Bluffton Properties. Last week, the property owner, Paul Terefenko, refused to comment about the median or whether the retailer received permission to build it.
The median has caused worry among business owners and confusion for drivers in the area.
There have been at least three reported car accidents within the area since the median was installed.