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Pawleys Island: Town restriction on renovations raises concerns about costs

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The rule that the town of Pawleys Island uses to limit the amount of money homeowners can spend on renovations before they have to bring their homes into compliance with the zoning code may end up costing owners more money, planning commissioners say.

The commission began a review of the so-called “50 percent rule” this week in the wake of a court case last year in which a judge questioned the way the town enforces it.

The town has required anyone whose renovations total more than 50 percent of their building’s value to bring it into compliance with the ordinance. On an island with small, narrow lots it is estimated that about a third of houses have some sort of violation that is grandfathered because the violations existed when the town was formed in 1985.

Over 26 years, the town has added to the number of requirements. Although it was a setback issue that prompted the lawsuit that threw the rule into doubt, the town has also established a minimum roof pitch and required houses to be elevated a foot higher than required by federal flood damage prevention regulations.

“It’s just on and on and on,” said Howard Ward, who chairs the commission. “And that runs remodeling [costs] up.”

The commission is looking at a new threshold for compliance when houses are renovated. “I’m not sure the 50 percent rule is the right rule,” commission member Jimmy McCants said at a meeting this week.

The town has applied the 50 percent rule to renovation, but a Circuit Court judge ruled last year that it only applies when a structure is damaged.

The issue was raised when Carolyn Camlin, a south end resident, questioned the value of a neighbor’s remodeling of a house where the existing porch extended to within a foot of the property line.

Camlin wanted the house to meet the setback requirement. The town Board of Zoning Appeals ruled that stairs and a second level added to the porch be removed.

Camlin and her neighbor, Tom Davy, both appealed the decision. The court upheld the board’s ruling, but noted that the 50 percent rule doesn’t apply to renovation.

Based on the ruling, a building permit was recently issued for a $135,000 renovation to a $202,000 house on Atlantic Avenue, Ward said.

Commission members agreed to find some level of renovation that would trigger compliance, but will ask for input from building officials and Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments.

“People say they are afraid of doing repairs because of the cost of bringing it into compliance,” commission member Walter McElveen said.

“The big thing is we want to get it right,” Ward said. “It’s got to be clear and it’s got to be fair. There are a lot of property owners on the island who are in jeopardy here.”

Commission member Bill Tuttle said there needs to be a clear distinction between the threshold for damage repair and renovations.

“The last thing we want is for lawyers and judges to tell us what we have to do,” he said.

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