020118 Pawleys Chapel: Plan for renovation takes a winding journey
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The porch was removed last month in preparation for moving the chapel.

Pawleys Chapel: Plan for renovation takes a winding journey

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Moving the Pawleys Island Chapel 100 feet across Myrtle Avenue won’t be difficult. Moving it back again is a different matter. The path winds through the county building department and two state agencies.

The chapel has sat over the edge of the marsh since 1947. The nonprofit Pawleys Island House of Worship, which owns the building, wants to replace the foundation pilings. The chapel will be moved to a vacant lot while the work is done. “We started a year ago. We cleared everything with the Corps of Engineers and DHEC,” said Jimmy McCants, the board member who is leading the project. “I’d sure like to get this cleared up.” The state Department of Health and Environmental Control has jurisdiction over the marsh along with the corps.

The move was planned for January because the chapel was booked with weddings into December. After the front porch and steps were removed, Georgetown County building officials said that the repair work would require the chapel to be elevated to comply with federal flood regulations. The county has a contract with the town of Pawleys Island to manage its building permits.

“It would be basically useless if you have to elevate it 8 feet in the air,” Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said. But he pointed out that the cost of the renovation is less than 50 percent of the chapel’s appraised value of $151,000, the threshold for compliance with the flood rules.

Building officials also noted the chapel extends 6 to 8 feet into the state right-of-way on Myrtle Avenue. “We would have to see them get an encroachment permit from DOT,” said Boyd Johnson, the county director of Planning and Zoning, who oversees the building officials. “The last thing we want to do is write a permit and have DOT come knocking on our door.”

Moving the building out of the right-of-way means it would extend farther into the marsh. Fabbri and McCants talked with staff at DHEC’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management. “Their approval process takes quite a while,” McCants said. So he was pleasantly surprised to find the agency willing to allow a new row of pilings to shift the building away from the road.

“I would rather them move it back 8 feet,” Fabbri said. That would still require a ramp in the right-of-way, but it would also allow the building to be raised slightly. “Elevating it even a foot would make a world of difference,” he said.

The chapel flooded in the last two hurricanes, so the extra height would help, McCants said. He hopes all the structure can be shifted from the right-of-way.

Fabbri met with Department of Transportation officials last week, and said the agency doesn’t object to an encroachment. “DOT’s never been strict about their rights-of-way here,” he said.

The chapel was renovated in 2004 and 2009. The difference this time is the move. “Moving it triggers so many things,” Johnson said. “If you move it, it’s like starting over.”

He added that the building codes that apply to the project are the same in the town and the county. “This is just normal operating procedure,” Johnson said.

Once the permitting is complete, it will take the contractor two weeks to complete the work. That’s allowing for tides and weather, McCants said. He is optimistic it can be done before the wedding that’s scheduled at the chapel for March 16.

“No one wants to do this any faster than me,” McCants said.

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