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Pawleys Island: Zoning appeal raises doubts about stormwater techniques

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Defer, said Hugh Buyck.

Refer, said Sara Irby.

And after the board went to vote, their attorney asked for clarification. Not that it mattered, because it didn’t have the option to defer or refer, he said later.

On this technicality hangs a larger issue for the town of Pawleys Island: how it manages stormwater runoff.

The issue was raised by Gayle Restar, who is building a creekfront home on Atlantic Avenue. She wants to put in a concrete driveway, but the town only allows pervious surfaces. Thomas Bevins, an engineer with the firm ETS, came up with a plan to catch stormwater from the driveway and direct it into perforated plastic pipe underground. “What’s commonly known as a French drain,” Bevins said.

Bevins went to Howard Ward, who chaired the town Planning Commission until he was elected to Town Council last month. Ward sent him to the Board of Zoning Appeals, which is where Bevins landed last week.

But David DuRant, the town attorney, told the appeals board that the proper place to make his request was the Planning Commission.

If the appeals board grants a variance that allows concrete driveways, “you’re taking over for Town Council and making rules for Pawleys Island, which is not your function,” DuRant said. “This is clearly not allowed under the ordinance. The only way to fix that is to change the ordinance.”

“I’m not disagreeing with what the engineer is saying,” he added.

The town requires that pervious material be used for driveways, and it lists crushed stone, slag and pervious concrete among the permitted materials. But Bevins said those materials can settle and clog and become impervious over time.

“I believe the intent is to provide a disposal method for surface water,” he told the appeals board. Some of the materials the town permits “don’t allow that to happen.”

“But we didn’t write the ordinance,” said Irby, a member of the appeals board.

“You would agree it would be in violation of the ordinance to have that system,” Buyck said.

“It would be a good addition to the ordinance,” Bevins said.

“It looks like a better system,” DuRant said, “but it needs to be approved by the Planning Commission.”

So Buyck proposed deferring a vote on Resetar’s request for a variance. But Irby moved to refer the issue to the Planning Commission, and the board agreed unanimously.

Nate Fata, attorney for the appeals board, asked for clarification. Buyck said it was deferred.

The state law that sets the requirements for appeals board decisions allows an issue to be remanded to staff for up to 60 days. Fata said he still considers the issue open.

The county’s zoning ordinance is administered by Georgetown County. Bevins said he would discuss the next step with Joanne Ochal, the zoning administrator.

“It didn’t really look like it fit the application” for a variance, Bevins said afterward.

He said the issue isn’t unique to the town. Georgetown County’s stormwater ordinance requires pervious concrete in some areas. It doesn’t consider slag, a byproduct of steelmaking, or crushed stone to be pervious. But Bevins said pervious concrete is three to four times the cost of traditional concrete and its benefits in handling stormwater runoff require correct installation and maintenance.

“There is a maintenance factor associated with them,” said Dan Newquist, a water quality planner at Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments. “I’m not sure that has been fully researched or analyzed.”

Pervious paving needs to be vacuumed to remove fine material, such as sand, that can clog the openings.

“Pervious surfaces do work,” Newquist said. “The question is how long they work and what causes them not to work.”

Ward said the appeals board was the best avenue for the Resetar request, but he thinks the larger issue needs to be addressed by the Planning Commission. “It’s a good goal,” he said. The issue is “trying to make it work on the coast.”

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