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Pawleys Island: The 50 percent rule: Both sides appeal town's decision on disputed porch

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The town of Pawleys Island went too far in requiring an owner to remove a porch and set of steps from his renovated home before issuing a certificate of occupancy, according to an appeal filed in Circuit Court last week.

A second appeal filed by a neighbor who first raised the issue said the town’s decision didn’t go far enough, and wants the renovated dwelling to comply with the town’s building setbacks.

At the heart of both appeals is the town’s interpretation of its development ordinance that nonconforming buildings must be brought into compliance if renovation exceeds 50 percent of the value of the structure. With narrow lots and street rights-of-way that vary widely, many houses on the island have encroachments.

“It’s better than 50 percent, I bet you,” said Howard Ward, who chairs the town Planning Commission. “That may be conservative.”

Those houses are grandfathered, but renovation could trigger compliance under the town’s interpretation of the rule.

“It’s all over the island,” Ward said.

The town Board of Zoning Appeals ruled in December that Tom Davy had increased the size of a deck that intruded 14 feet into the 15-foot setback when he renovated his house on Doyle Avenue. The case arose when Carolyn Camlin, whose house on Springs Avenue backs up to the Davy house, challenged the decision to issue a certificate of occupancy after the renovation.

Evidence at the appeals board hearing showed Davy understated the value of the improvements because he believed exceeding 50 percent of the value of the house would require him to comply with the setbacks. But Davy testified that he learned later that the rule only applies to regulations intended to reduce damage from flooding, such as elevation of the first floor.

Robert Cox, the chief building official for Georgetown County who is contracted to provide building services for the town, testified that the 50 percent rule for zoning compliance is only triggered when a building is damaged or destroyed. That was challenged by Jack Scoville, the attorney for Camlin, and by David DuRant, the town attorney.

In its ruling, the appeals board noted Cox’s interpretation, which he said is used in every other jurisdiction he knows of, but said even if that is correct it doesn’t allow an owner to increase the size of the nonconforming portion of the building. The board said that’s what Davy did when he added onto the porch by adding a second level and a set of steps.

“The owner of the subject property cannot convert a small simple set [of] first floor steps into a deck, add a set of stairs to the second floor and a second floor deck and increase the nonconformity,” the appeals board decided.

Once the deck is restored to its original configuration, a certificate of occupancy can be issued, the board said.

Bob Moran, the attorney for Davy, said that decision isn’t supported by the facts. In asking the Circuit Court to require the town to issue the certificate of occupancy, Moran said the encroachment didn’t increase because the footprint of the deck was the same after the renovation.

The town is also wrong in claiming the 50 percent rule applies “to anything by damage or destruction by fire, flood or act of God,” Moran said.

Scoville asks the court to require Davy to bring his house into compliance with the setbacks. By deciding that the 50 percent rule did apply “the board was bound as a matter of law to require Mr. Davy to comply with all the requirements of the [ordinance], including all applicable setbacks,” he said.

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