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Pawleys Island: Neighbors’ dispute over easement extends to dock permits

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Owners of two homes on Pawleys Island who sparred in court for years over an easement to the creek have applied for state dock permits. But both of those docks, which would be about 30 feet apart, would start in the middle of Myrtle Avenue.

The town of Pawleys Island, which has tried to stay out of the neighbors’ dispute, is counting on the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management to settle the issue. After a meeting in closed session with Town Attorney David DuRant, the council took no action on the permit requests.

“The council’s position is not to interfere with docks,” Mayor Bill Otis said. “OCRM makes the decisions. That’s where it needs to be.”

But he also noted that state regulations require that docks originate on private property. “These docks come to the ground on road right-of-way,” Otis said.

William and Kathryn Walter applied last month for a permit to build a dock in front of their house at 180 Myrtle Avenue. Their lot fronts on the street, which at that point is dirt and made narrower than its 30-foot width by intruding marsh grass.

Less than two week’s later, Henry Thomas, whose family owns a house at 181 Atlantic Ave., applied for a permit to build a dock in front of the Walters house at the end of an easement across the Walters property. That easement is the subject of a dispute that started in 2009 and was settled in court a year ago.

Both families appeared before Town Council to make their case.

William Walter said his family had a dock from around 1970 until it was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Due to deaths, illnesses and financial straits the dock was never rebuilt.

The proposed dock won’t block anyone’s view or disturb the marsh. “We feel very strongly about that,” Kathryn Walter said.

“Let the case stand on its merits,” William Walter said.

The public comment period on the permit closed last week. Several of the comments came from family members and friends recalling good times spent on the previous dock. Linwood Altman, owner of Pawleys Island Realty and president of the Pawleys Island Civic Association, also recommended approval. He noted that even though the Walter property fronts on the street, Georgetown County taxes it as waterfront property.

Robert Moses, who has a nearby creekfront lot, recommended shifting the location of the proposed dock so it won’t block the channel. William Walter said he will take that concern into account.

The only objection to the permit came from Thomas. He said the location of the Walter dock will block a mooring post that has been used by his family since 1925.

“We’ve always had a boat in that same spot,” he told Town Council. “That’s really the most important thing, that we don’t lose the right to that mooring.”

The Thomas permit application shows a dock running over the site of the mooring. In his comment to Coastal Resources, he said, the “Thomas and Walter families have shared use of this creek bank for 50 years. The pending Thomas permit continues this history. The Walter permit does not.”

The comment period on the Thomas permit closes Wednesday. Although the town won’t file a comment, Otis sent a letter to both families in 2009 when questions were raised about the status of the dirt portion of Myrtle Avenue. “Each of you should be aware that the right of way for Myrtle Avenue is public property and nothing should be done in this property by anyone but the town,” he wrote.

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