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Pawleys Island: Town moves to stay above rising flood rates

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The Pawleys Island Town Council will hold a public hearing next month on a proposal that will raise the height of new houses up to 3 feet above existing houses. The Planning Commission approved the change last month and Town Council put it on a fast track for approval with the first of two readings last week.

The move is one of several the town plans over the next 18 months in an effort to reduce federal flood insurance premiums for island property owners.

“We looked at this as an opportunity to decrease the cost of flood insurance,” Planning Commission chairman Jimmy McCants said.

To qualify for federal flood insurance, communities must adopt and enforce regulations intended to reduce damage. The “base flood elevation” is the minimum height buildings must be raised above sea level and it varies according to location. The town already requires homes to be a foot above the base flood elevation. Going to 3 feet will help property owners in the town earn a discount on premiums under a program called the Community Rating System.

The town is already at Level 6, which provides a 20 percent premium discount. It wants to reach Level 4 and a 30 percent discount.

“Going to 3 feet would be a big step forward,” McCants said. “We didn’t want to be pioneers and feel like we were doing something radical.”

The city of Myrtle Beach has also adopted the 3-foot rule.

While the rule will apply immediately to new construction, it could also apply to existing homes if they are damaged more than 50 percent by a disaster of if they are expanded by more than 50 percent of their value.

“The only bad thing I see is if the house next door to you got knocked down, their porches would be 3 feet higher,” Council Member Glennie Tarbox said.

“It would be unusual for one house to be taken down and the other to still be there,” McCants said.

He told Town Council the commission couldn’t come up with a downside to the additional height. The additional construction cost was estimated at $15 a month to a mortgage payment while the saving in insurance cost was $250 a month. The extra height shouldn’t make the houses prone to additional wind damage, McCants said.

The town limits the height of structures to 30 feet. If the base flood elevation increases for new and rebuilt homes, they will still be allowed the full 30 feet.

Council Member Sarah Zimmerman said she already got a premium discount for building her house above the base flood elevation. Ryan Fabbri, the town’s assistant administrator and CRS coordinator, said individuals can always exceed the minimum federal requirements. Changing the building height in the town development code would make the savings on premiums available to all property owners.

Fabbri is due to attend a CRS conference later this summer and Mayor Bill Otis said the town will be looking for other ways to gain points toward a higher rating with the least impact on property owners. For instance, the town could reduce the level of construction that would require homes to comply with the current rules below 50 percent, Fabbri said. But that could have a significant impact on owners who want to renovate.

“This is only first base,” Otis said. “We will be going back to the Planning Commission.”

The council will hold a hearing on this increased building elevation July 14.

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