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Pawleys Island: Town Hall project raises concerns about change

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Some Pawleys Island residents questioned the cost and the priority of building a new Town Hall at a forum last week, telling the mayor and Town Council it is an unnecessary change to a town formed to resist change.

The Town Hall on Myrtle Avenue was flooded by Hurricane Matthew. It was a former vacation rental office that was converted by Mayor Jack Bland in 1988, three years after the town was formed. Even with a series of additions, it had less than 500 square feet. Because repairs would exceed 50 percent of the building’s cost, the town would have to bring it into compliance with federal flood regulations. That means raising it about 11 feet. But part of the building sits over the marsh, and town officials don’t believe they could get state permits to rebuild.

“I talked with Jack Bland last night, in prayer,” Stacy Clardy said. Bland died in 1990, but Clardy believes he would want the old Town Hall rebuilt.

The town has proposed acquiring the right-of-way to Pavilion Lane, which runs next to the Nature Park between the North Causeway and Myrtle Avenue. At 66 feet, the right-of-way is wider than many lots on the island. The town would make Pavilion Lane a dead-end street with the new Town Hall at the Myrtle Avenue end. It has sent out a request for qualifications from architects.

“I don’t see how it could make anything better,” Clardy said of the new building. He told the council it should focus on removing sand from the south end of Pawleys Creek. In places, “you can walk across the creek at low tide,” he said. Much of it washed over Springs Avenue from the beach during Hurricane Matthew, but he said the shoaling has gone on for years.

And, Clardy said, the clean-up from Matthew is still incomplete. “Cleaning up the island is No. 1,” he said. “We’ve got to get our priorities straight.”

Others agreed. Barry Stanton said talk of improving the entrance to the island along the North Causeway didn’t impress him since his house is on the island’s south end and people take the South Causeway to reach it. Raising the Town Hall 11 feet and closing Pavilion Lane, once a two-way street, are unwelcome changes. “I want to see it the way it’s always been,” Stanton said.

He also agreed about the need to dredge the south end of the creek. “There’s nowhere for the water to go,” Stanton said. “It needs to be dredged all the way down.”

Phil Schneider also said the old Town Hall should be rebuilt and asked why it couldn’t be raised. The town could grant a variance to the building height, but the council said it didn’t want to do that for Town Hall while continuing to enforce and expand flood regulations for homes. The town is working to improve its standing in the federal Community Rating System that gives property owners a discount on premiums for federally-subsidized flood insurance.

“We would all have liked to have kept that location,” Council Member Mike Adams said.

Robert Moser suggested the new Town Hall be placed where it would be less obtrusive. The town owns a 6,000-square-foot lot adjacent to the Nature Park that was once a single-family home. It bought the lot for $375,000 in 2010 with the idea that it would become the site of a new Town Hall. Instead, the property was landscaped through donations to the private Pawleys Island Beautification Foundation. The foundation doesn’t want the site developed, and Mayor Bill Otis said the town now hopes to sell the property to the foundation to raise the money for the new Town Hall.

The town also plans to use insurance and seek grants to fund the new building. In response to concerns about financing the project while undertaking a beach nourishment project, Otis said the council doesn’t anticipate a property tax. The town has never had a municipal property tax.

“Where you’ve got it is the perfect spot,” Jimmy Braswell said, referring to the Pavilion Lane site. He serves on the Planning Commission, which reviewed the proposal last week. The height of the new building can be mitigated by landscaping.

“I don’t think it’s a terribly bad proposal,” Alex Boyer said. “Things are always changing.”

Bill Kinney urged the council to consider the island’s history when selecting the design. “I think all of us would be happy if the new building looks like it belongs here,” he said.

One of the criteria for an architect is familiarity with Lowcountry design, Otis said. “We don’t need no Taj MaTownHall,” he added.

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