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Pawleys Island: Appeal process starts over for disputed walkway

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The walkway at 302 Atlantic Ave. stretches 213 feet toward the beach. The dispute stretches over nearly three years.

The town of Pawleys Island says the walkway is 2 feet too wide. The owners, Robert and Pamela Wilkes, say it was an honest mistake. A Circuit Court judge says the two sides should work something out.

But the town last week denied a variance for the walkway for a second time, and the issue may be headed to court, also for the second time.

“We don’t want to go back to Circuit Court,” Robert Wilkes told the Board of Zoning Appeals. “My wife and I are just ready to sell the house and go somewhere where we are welcome.”

The Wilkeses bought their house on the island’s north end in September 2008 and started renovations two months later. The deck wasn’t part of the plan, but when the steps were condemned during the renovation, Wilkes said, the project was revised to include the steps and the attached walkway.

He said the width was based on a tutorial on the town’s website, which referred to a 6-foot-width allowed under state coastal regulations. A contractor applied for a building permit in June 2009 for the walkway, but never got the permit. In July, a stop-work order was issued citing the town’s 4-foot limit on walkway width.

The Wilkeses went before the Zoning Appeals Board in October 2009 seeking a variance to the width limit. It was denied. They appealed that decision to Circuit Court.

They argued that they relied on information provided by the town in designing the walkway. They also asked for mediation.

The Wilkeses met with a mediator in May 2011. David DuRant, the town attorney, attended by phone. In July, Judge Larry Hyman ruled the appeals board record was incomplete and ordered another hearing. He also ordered the town to send someone to represent the town in person at another mediation session.

“I find it surprising and disappointing that this matter has not been resolved by mediation and settlement,” Hyman wrote in his order.

Another mediation conference was held in October 2011. After two hours, the sides could not agree.

At last week’s appeals board hearing, Joseph Singleton, attorney for the Wilkeses, said “they’re willing to accept any reasonable conditions” to bring the walkway into compliance. They have offered to add seating or handrails that restrict the usable width, he said.

The walkway cost $30,000. Wilkes said it would cost $7,000 to tear it down and $35,000 to replace it.

“It doesn’t need any proof that it would be an economic hardship,” Singleton said.

He also pointed out the situation is unique to the Wilkes property and wouldn’t set a precedent if a variance is granted, which is among the criteria for granting a variance under state law.

DuRant said it was the contractor’s negligence that caused the problem. “I certainly sympathize with their plight,” he said. “He built a deck that didn’t comply with the zoning.”

The town is willing to work with the Wilkeses, but the walkway has to comply with the 4-foot requirement, DuRant said.

“If it’s not but 4 feet wide to walk on, it could comply with the zoning,” Singleton said. “I don’t think you can count the substructure, the foundation of it.”

Appeals board member Worth Johnson questioned why the county building inspectors, who work under contract with the town, didn’t see that the walkway was too wide when they inspected renovations to the house.

Joanne Ochal, the county zoning administrator, said the inspectors only consider the building code; the walkway width is a zoning issue.

“There ought to have been some inspection somewhere,” Johnson said.

“If he didn’t have a permit there wouldn’t be any cause for an inspection,” board chairman Roger Ward said.

“There’s a little bit of fault both ways,” Johnson said.

The board voted 2-1 to deny the variance. Johnson was opposed. Board member John Hart recused himself because his family owns a house next to the Wilkeses.

“It does not meet any of the criteria,” board member Sarah Irby said.

Ward explained that the Wilkeses walkway would not qualify for a variance if they had applied before construction. “It’s not a hardship for this lot as opposed to any other lot,” he said. “I feel badly. I hope you can work something out.”

Wilkes wasn’t optimistic. “It seems silly for 2 feet,” he said. “Why are we going through all this?”

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