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Setbacks: Council members agree variance is a win

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Council Members Steve Goggans and John Thomas say a decision to grant a variance allowing a lawyer’s office to be built within the 90-foot front setback off Highway 17 in Litchfield proves both their points about the issue.

The Georgetown County Board of Zoning Appeals granted a 30-foot variance last week for a lot owned by Lavinia Point Turner at 13001 Highway 17 in front of HealthPoint and south of CresCom Bank in Litchfield. Appeals board members agreed the lot was unique because of its size and shape. Without a variance from the board, attorney Dan Stacy said, the lot would be “a useless piece of property.”

Goggans has proposed changing the front setback to 50 feet on Highway 17 and on a portion of Highway 701. Thomas wants to keep it 90 feet, at least on the Waccamaw Neck.

Goggans said there are many similar properties along Highway 17. “Consequently, the county has no choice but to give these properties variances, or they will wind up owning the property because you will have a regulated taking,” he said.

“In truth, our historic land use has really been 50 feet, sometimes even less. That’s one example. There will be lots of others in the future. If you are going to give variances, why persist with insisting on 90 feet when buildings will not meet the 90-foot requirements?”

Thomas said his goal is to preserve the look of the Waccamaw Neck and favors grandfathering non-conforming buildings if they are damaged. He said the decision to grant a variance on the Litchfield lot seemed logical. “On a case by case basis,” Thomas said, “they can make good decisions like that. That leaves everybody satisfied and preserves the overall look and feel of the Waccamaw Neck.”

Though the county has scheduled a workshop in January to study changing the front setback along Highway 17 from 90 to 50 feet, Stacy said the proposed buyer would not wait on that process to play out. The lot, he said, has been vacant for years.

Stacy said the lot’s depth, 146 feet, wouldn’t allow room for a functional office once the 90-foot front setback and the 15-foot rear setback were in place. “The building would be unworkable and unusable,” Stacy said. “It would look like a mobile home.”

Members of the board agreed, granting a 30-foot variance for a proposed law office to align with the neighboring bank building. They went against recommendations from the county’s planning staff and county attorney Wesley Bryant. County zoning administrator Joanne Ochal said there was room for a 3,200-square foot building. Bryant could not attend the meeting but sent a letter that said he agreed with the planning staff’s assessment and the request did not meet the criteria for a variance.

Building an office on the property would be possible, Stacy said, but not reasonable. The variance wouldn’t be a detriment to property owners in the vicinity or harm the character of the district, board member Eugene Gilfillin said, noting the bank already protrudes 30 feet in to the setback. Chairman Thomas Onions said the conditions were extraordinary and exceptional and he felt the lot meets all the criteria for a variance. The vote was unanimous.

Board members elected Onions as chairman and Gilfillin as vice chairman.

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