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Pawleys Island: Safety concerns drive change in permits

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Bill Doar repaired the steps leading to the floating dock at his house on Pawleys Creek. “I didn’t get a permit for that,” he said.

He probably didn’t need one, according to Mayor Bill Otis.

Jimmy McCants replaced a piling on his dock after the worm-eaten timber broke at the waterline. “I didn’t get a permit for that,” he said. Buddy Keller did get a permit when he replaced the decking on the walkway to his dock. “I don’t think anybody came and inspected it,” he said.

The dock owners are all members of the Pawleys Island Planning Commission, which was asked last week to come up with a definitive list of activities that require a building permit from the town. “There’s really nothing that says you have to get a permit for something specific,” Ryan Fabbri, the town’s assistant administrator, said.

The town’s development ordinance currently says, “No building or other structure shall be erected, moved, added to or structurally altered without a permit therefor issued by the building inspector.” It goes on to list exceptions, such as fences, some interior renovations, electrical repairs and installation of some appliances.

The issue arose after winter storms damaged walkways to the beach. Some of those weren’t built according the town’s code, McCants said. A contractor told him he didn’t think he needed a permit.

But Otis said it’s important to make sure owners know they need a permit for walkways because the town only allows them to be 4 feet wide. The state, which also regulates construction along the beachfront, allows 6-foot-wide walkways. (The state doesn’t require a permit if the walkway meets the rules.)

The town has been in court for three years with property owners challenging its decision that they must remove their walkways. “It’s a very nice walkway, but it’s 6 feet wide,” Otis said. It was built without a permit, he added.

The different requirements between jurisdictions is also complicated by the fact that the town contracts with Georgetown County for building and zoning services. The county doesn’t restrict driveways, but the town has a limit on the amount of pervious surface on a lot. The town only requires permits for driveways with impervious paving.

The county doesn’t require permits for fences, either, as long as they meet county regulations. That was the approach the town took, but the commission last week recommended that owners be required to submit fence plans for review.

“Pawleys Island has different issues,” Otis said.

As for creek docks, he said it’s important that the town require a permit “to make sure docks are structurally sound.” Otis told the commission, “If you’ve got somebody issuing a permit, they’re more likely to look at it.”

“That’s the reason to do it: for safety,” commission member Bill Tuttle said.

But commission members were concerned that if the town requires a building permit for minor repairs owners could decide not to maintain the structures. “It actually could backfire on us,” commission member Ed Fox said.

The commission agreed to continue refining the list of covered activities. One they threw out was roof repair and replacement.

“Even Williamsburg, Va., doesn’t require a permit for a roof,” said Keller, who is a commercial property developer.

The commission is also continuing work on swimming pools, which it began earlier this year after seeing a rise in requests for building permits. Tuttle proposed limiting pools to concrete and requiring that they be in-ground or attached to a deck if elevated. They would also have to be set back at least 15 feet from saltwater wetlands.

Although most jurisdictions restrict the discharge of pool water, Tuttle said he couldn’t find any examples of how that is enforced. Commission members are concerned that chlorinated pool water will flow into the creek.

“Everyone’s very vague about it,” Fabbri said, but he agreed to help with further research.

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