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Pawleys Island: Special needs program runs afoul of zoning

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A program for special needs children that had planned to move to a Pawleys Island beach house this week is now reviewing its options after receiving a cease and desist letter from the town zoning official.

“The board is meeting. We’ll talk to an attorney,” said Peggy Wheeler-Cribb, founder of the Special Needs Madeline Home Foundation. She planned to bring children from a special needs program she started at First Baptist Church in Georgetown to her home on Pawleys because it has outgrown its existing space.

That house, owned by Wheeler-Cribb’s son, Darwin Wheeler, is zoned for residential use. In a letter last month, the town zoning administrator, told Wheeler the tea room and gift shop fundraising activities of the foundation violated the zoning rules.

Wheeler-Cribb said the teas were all prepared off the island and brought to the house, where guests made a $25 donation. “I don’t even have a stove in the house,” she said.

And the gift shop, set up by her niece, sold donated items, Wheeler-Cribb said.

“These two activities are commercial,” Joanne Ochal, the zoning administrator, wrote last month. She works for Georgetown County, which provides building and zoning services to the town under contract. “You may notice that there are several consignment shops on the Waccamaw Neck and they are all in commercial district, not residential districts.”

Ochal also told Wheeler the Madeline Foundation’s plans for “day care programs, camps, after school programs and respite care” would violate the residential zoning.

Wheeler-Cribb said her church-based program has been holding camps on the island for 12 years. “They get to play in the ocean and the sand. In the summer, we have family day once a month,” she said.

On her wall, she has a framed copy of a letter from the former owner Zaidee Lee Brawley that outline summer camps for boys and girls held in the summer of 1933. The cost was $45 for two weeks.

The special needs program will involve “a lot less people than we’ve been renting to” during the summer, Wheeler-Cribb said.

The foundation was formed last summer as a nonprofit. Wheeler plans to put the property in the name of the foundation, Wheeler-Cribb said.

The property is the subject of a 2012 foreclosure action by Citibank over a $2 million loan made to Wheeler in 2007 and secured by a mortgage. Wheeler brought a counterclaim saying the bank breached the contract by failing to negotiate loan modifications.

The parties went into state-mandated “foreclosure intervention” in 2013. Last October, the bank got the case restored to the docket saying they could not agree on modifications.

Wheeler-Cribb said she hopes the foreclosure will be resolved with the help of donors to the foundation.

The property is one of four along Myrtle Avenue that have not granted the town a construction easement to move electric and cable television lines underground. Wheeler-Cribb said she and her son are waiting for the transfer of the property to make a decision on the utility easement. It isn’t affected by the town’s decision on the foundation’s activities, she said.

The foundation may move its consignment shop to the mainland. Instead of teas, it is planning a fashion show and a herb class as fundraisers, she said.

“We’re doing some transitioning right now,” Wheeler-Cribb said. It’s possible that wounded veterans could also come within the special needs mission of the Madeline Foundation. “We’re going to consider that,” she said.

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