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Roads: Pawleys Plantation golf cart route raises concerns

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Neighbors along the South Causeway to Pawleys Island are lining up to oppose a project that will provide access to golf carts from Pawleys Plantation. Residents inside the gated community said it will reduce traffic on Highway 17 and be used by cyclists and pedestrians more than golf carts.

“It’s an invasion of our privacy, an invasion of the ecology of this place,” said Benjie Ray, who said he learned about the project when landscaping was removed from the fence that separates his property from Pawleys Plantation last week.

The proposed path would connect with Rybolt Road, a county-owned road that was resurfaced this summer, and leads to the South Causeway. The pavement on Rybolt Road stops short of the intersection of Live Oak Lane, a private street that is part of the Pawleys Island Woods development. “The big question is where is the terminus of Rybolt,” said Ray Funnye, Georgetown County Public Services director. “Somebody has to do some research in the courthouse.”

So far, no one has asked the county for an encroachment permit for the golf cart path, Funnye said. But he added, “If there’s a public right-of-way, I don’t see why that’s a problem.”

David Gundling, an attorney and a Pawleys Plantation resident, said he did the research and it shows that the county has an easement on Rybolt Road, which stops at the Pawleys Plantation property line. “It’s really the only [planned development] that will have access to the beach without crossing Highway 17,” he said. “It’s a nice enhancement.”

While the proposed connector would allow cyclists and pedestrians to reach the beach at Pawleys Island along the South Causeway, golf carts aren’t allowed on the road. The speed limit is 40 mph and state law limits golf carts to roads with 35 mph limits and under.

Boyd Johnson, the planning director for Georgetown County, said the Pawleys Plantation Property Owners Association asked about a golf cart path early last month. “We were concerned enough about it to get in a car and go look,” he said. “We’ve had issues back there before with that fence,” including a proposal to cover it with fabric.

Johnson said he wanted to be sure the project wouldn’t involve cutting any protected trees or require a stormwater permit. As a “planned development,” Pawleys Plantation has its own zoning district. Any change in the “intensity of land use” requires a public hearing and county approval. The zoning code defines “intensity” as “the degree of the negative impacts on the environment and neighboring land uses.”

While Johnson’s first impression was that the golf cart link wouldn’t require a hearing, “we would take another look at it,” he said this week. No one from Pawleys Plantation followed up after the planning department outlined the steps the POA needed to take to implement the project, staff said.

Ray and his wife bought their house in Pawleys Island Marsh Oaks this summer. They were living on Pawleys Island while remodeling, but were flooded out by Hurricane Matthew. “We need some peace and privacy,” he said. Instead, he’s watched as three species of owls along with foxes and other wildlife have moved out as work on the path began. “No one has called us about this project,” he said. “We want someone from the appropriate department to come out and look at it.”

A member of the Pawleys Plantation POA board, said he spoke with Ray two months ago. He also asked the property owners association at Pawleys Island Woods to grant an easement to allow the path to connect with Live Oak Lane. He asked that his name not be used because of “the vitriol” he encountered from opponents when he went to look at Rybolt Road on Tuesday.

The board member said the initial reaction was favorable, but has since changed. Melodie Henderson, president of the Pawleys Woods POA, said she canvassed her owners and they opposed the project. Ray said he never supported the idea.

The project originated with an anonymous note in the Pawleys Plantation POA’s suggestion box, the board member said. It wanted a second access for cars. That was too expensive, but the association decided on a path. He believes it will be mostly used by cyclists, since there aren’t more than 20 golf carts owned by residents of about 300 single-family homes. He pointed out that the condos at Pawleys Plantation aren’t allowed to have golf carts because they have no storage.

“All we’re trying to do is make it safe for people to run and ride bikes,” the board member said. “This blows my mind that they’re all upset.”

The potential for increased golf cart traffic in the town of Pawleys Island has also caught the attention of Mayor Bill Otis. The town had banned golf carts until a change in state law prohibited local restrictions on the vehicles.

“We question and oppose adding additional golf cart traffic with access to Pawleys Island,” Otis said. The extra traffic will be on a section of winding road that leads to the beach accesses, he noted. “We continue to think this is a safety issue.”

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