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Pawleys Island: Duplexes won't be allowed to rebuild under new rule

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

People who own duplex homes on Pawleys Island won’t be able to rebuild them if destroyed by fire and flood under a proposal from the town Planning Commission. They will have to conform to the town’s single-family zoning.

That’s a change from the rules adopted when the town was created in 1985, which allow rebuilding of duplexes. The town doesn’t allow new duplexes.

There are 84 duplexes on the island.

The town began looking at how it treats buildings that don’t conform to the zoning ordinance after a Circuit Court judge ruled last year that the town was not interpreting its so-called 50 percent rule correctly. The rule requires structures to brought into compliance if they are damaged or destroyed by more than half their value. Until the judge’s decision, the town applied that rule to renovations.

An amendment to the zoning ordinance fixed the problem found by the judge, but the Planning Commission started a review of the ordinance. It is proposing that the value of renovations will no longer be a consideration as long as the non-conformity is not increased. For instance, someone with a porch that doesn’t meet the building setbacks could build an addition to their house without bringing the porch into compliance, as long as the addition itself complies with all the rules.

The town hired Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments to draft the amendments, which must be approved by Town Council. Tom Britton, assistant planning director at Waccamaw Regional, met with the Planning Commission last week to set goals for the amendments.

“There are a lot options available to you,” he said. “We want to narrow it down.”

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The zoning rules are independent of those required by the National Flood Insurance Program, Britton noted. Building code compliance would also be a separate issue.

The town code would affect use, primarily single-family or duplexes, and issues such as building setbacks, height and size. “There are a lot of non-conforming structures; only a few non-conforming uses,” Mayor Bill Otis said.

He said allowing non-conforming uses to rebuild was a way to preserve the island’s two inns, Pelican and Sea View. A third inn, Cassena, was destroyed by a fire and not rebuilt.

Commission member Bill Doar asked if the town could allow the inns to rebuild after being damaged, but not duplexes. “I think you probably could,” Britton said.

Commission member Jimmy McCants said that the inns should be required to conform to other rules, such as setbacks, if rebuilt.

The town currently allows people to rebuild non-conforming structures as they existed prior to being damaged. Commission chairman Howard Ward said that’s what happened after Hurricane Hugo damaged many of the island’s homes in 1989.

“We need to think hard” before changing that policy, he said.

The commission agreed that structures can be rebuilt as they were if they are damaged or destroyed. Britton said the burden will be on the property owner to document the state of existing structures.

Any building that is torn down on purpose must comply with the zoning when rebuilt, the commission decided.

“If you tear it down, you have made the choice that it will be conforming,” commission member Walter McElveen said.

Once Britton has drafted proposed changes to the ordinance, they will be reviewed by the commission. “This is not going to be simple set of two-pages-and-you’re-done,” Otis said.

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