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Pawleys Island: Town planners study equity of building size formula

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A year after agreeing that the formula used to determine the size of houses on Pawleys Island is unfair, the town has renewed its effort to come up with an alternative.

The Planning Commission met last month for the first time in almost a year. Members brought the same concerns over the scale of new houses that have porches larger than their heated floor space and about the way the town “floor area ratio” restricts some property owners.

The town development ordinance says a lot can have no more than 40 percent impervious surface. The floor area ratio of a house can’t exceed 40 percent of the lot. Using those formulas, a 5,500-square-foot lot could have a 2,200-square-foot home, Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said.

But a 10,000-square-foot lot on the creek that may have less than 5,500 square feet of buildable area would be allowed to include unbuildable marsh and have a 4,000-square-foot house, the maximum size excluding porches.

“Is that reasonable? Is that right?” commission chairman Jimmy McCants asked. On the narrow south end “the house occupies the whole lot” because the dunes are included in the lot size calculation, he said. On the northern tip of the island, which is a “planned development” zoning district, “houses are massive,” he said. One has 7,000 square feet of porches surrounding its 4,000 heated square feet.

“All my neighbors say, ‘What’s going on on the north end,’ ” said commission member Jimmy Braswell.

Fabbri said he talked with planners at the Waccamaw Regional Council of Government to get some ideas about allowing owners of interior lots some relief, such as allowing more square footage if the owners adopt a larger building setback. He found there are 177 lots on the island that are under 10,000 square feet.

“Is this something you want to pursue?” Fabbri asked the commission.

It was, and McCants said the commission members would start thinking about their options.

Commission member Buddy Keller also asked about ways to limit the size of porches. Commission member Fran Green suggested the town come up with a ratio of porch area to building size.

“Porches are a big deal on Pawleys Island,” commission member Bill Tuttle said. They are among the elements that define the look of island houses.

The value the town places on aesthetics was reflected in the commission’s decision to allow property owners to use slats to screen the area under houses that are raised on pilings. The town doesn’t allow slats in its development code, but the prohibition hasn’t been enforced, Fabbri said.

“I did slats,” commission member Ed Fox said.

The restriction is one of the rules that enables the town to earn a 20 percent discount on federal flood insurance rates. The town hopes to increase that to 25 percent, but the commission said it was willing to give up the points earned under the federal Community Rating System.

“Aesthetically, it’s better,” Braswell said. “Slats are preferable.”

Other members agreed and Town Council gave first reading to the revised ordinance last week.

“It brings the town into compliance with what’s being done,” Mayor Bill Otis said.

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