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Pawleys Island: Town tries to avoid dispute over street

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A dispute between neighbors on the north end of Pawleys Island has spilled into the street, or at least what’s shown as a street on town maps.

It’s an unpaved portion of Myrtle Avenue, the island’s main north-south road.

“It’s really a road to nowhere,” said William Walter, one of four homeowners on the unpaved street.

But Henry Thomas, whose family owns a home around the corner, asked Town Council this month to clear brush from the right of way and open the road.

“It’s a public road,” he said. “It should be kept clean. Parking should not be allowed on that road.”

Since Pawleys Island formed a town in 1985, local officials have regularly dealt with “paper streets” that show up on plats from the early 20th century, but which don’t exist on the ground.

A plat from 1926 shows Myrtle Avenue, with a 30-foot right of way, running all the way to the north end of the island.

In fact, Walter said there is only about 7 feet of high ground between the corner of his lot and the salt marsh along Pawleys Creek.

“At our widest spot, we’ve never had more than 7 feet of space,” his wife, Kathryn Walter, said.

But that road, however narrow, is important to Thomas, whose family owns a lot on Atlantic Avenue that is adjacent to the Walters’ property. There is a reciprocal easement on the Thomas and Walter lots that provides 9 feet for “ingress, egress and agress for persons and vehicles” between Atlantic and Myrtle avenues.

Thomas said he uses the dirt portion of Myrtle Avenue to get to a boat he keeps moored in the creek.

“That road was our lifeline,” he told Town Council. “What we have now is a situation where I can’t get to my boat. I can’t get to the creek without trespassing.”

The dispute that led Thomas and the Walters to Town Council began in April, when Kathryn Walter reported to police that Thomas cut trees on their property. Thomas told an officer he “trimmed back a briar patch” and cut some small stumps that were dangerous, according to the incident report.

The case was heard in town court and Thomas was fined. The Walters went to magistrate’s court for a restraining order, which was granted by Summary Court Judge Dan Furr.

“The town is not going to be drawn into this dispute,” Mayor Bill Otis said.

After hearing from both sides this summer, he sent them a letter saying the town would enforce the parking laws and maintain the right of way on the dirt portion of Myrtle Avenue. He also invited them to address Town Council.

William Walter told the council he and other owners on that portion of Myrtle Avenue have maintained the street. “They all expressed strong opposition to any change,” he said.

Thomas and his wife, Emily Carey, asked the town to clear the right of way.

“That portion of Myrtle Avenue could be a pedestrian roadway,” Carey said. “People could sit and enjoy the creek.”

Otis said the north end of Myrtle Avenue isn’t a paper street. It’s included in a list of streets the town adopted three years ago following a request to abandon an undeveloped street in the Birds Nest section. “It’s a named street,” he said.

There are two others like it on the north end of the island, Fraser and Pearce streets.

“If they get potholes, we fix them. If they need to be graded, we grade them,” Otis said.

“We’re doing for these three streets what we’ve always done.”

The Walters said they are satisfied with the town’s decision. “The council members are doing a really good job of trying to maintain the ambiance of the island,” Kathryn Walter said.

But Thomas said the town is letting public property be used for private parking that blocks his access to the creek. And he said the town hasn’t enforced the mayor’s pledge to enforce parking or prohibit clearing by anyone other than the town.

After the council meeting on July 13, Thomas reported to police that limbs had been cut along the right of way at the Walters’ house. He also reported a pickup truck parked in the street. An officer spoke with the truck owner, but said he didn’t write a ticket.

Thomas said he gave the officer the name of the landscape firm that did the work. He sent a letter to the town saying he planned to hire the same company to complete the work so he can reach the creek.

That prompted a letter from Town Attorney David DuRant that any further clearing will “result in civil and/or criminal charges.”

“I’m just trying to continue to do what my family’s been able to do for 85 years,” Thomas said.

He said he’s contacted the state Department of Transportation and an attorney.

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