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Pawleys Island: Judge casts doubt on '50-percent rule'

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A Circuit Court judge has upheld the Town of Pawleys Island's decision in a zoning dispute between neighbors, but cast further doubt on a rule that limits renovation of homes on the island.

In December 2010, the town Board of Zoning Appeals ruled that Tom Davy had to tear down a second-story deck built in the building setback of his house on Doyle Avenue because it increased the size of a nonconforming use. An existing deck came within a foot of his neighbor's property.

The neighbor, Carolyn Camlin, had appealed Davy's certificate of occupancy, saying the value of his renovations exceeded 50 percent of the cost of his home and should require him to bring the building into compliance with the zoning code, including the building setbacks.

Both Camlin and Davy asked the court to overturn the appeals board ruling: Camlin saying it didn't go far enough, Davy saying it went too far.

Judge William H. Seals Jr. heard arguments from both sides last month.

Attorneys for the town argued both at the appeals board hearing and in court that the town has been consistent in requiring that renovations beyond 50 percent of a structure's value require compliance with the zoning code. The county building inspector, Robert Cox, told the appeals board he disagrees. Compliance is only required when damage to a structure is greater than 50 percent, he said, an interpretation Davy used in arguing to have the appeals board decision reversed.

Although the evidence shows that the value of Davy's renovations grew from $69,200 to $115,000, Seals said there is a "conflict" about how the "50-percent rule" applies. "Implicit in the ruling of the Board of Zoning Appeals" is an acceptance of the interpretation that the rule only applies when a structure is damaged, Seals said in his decision.

"This court's review of the code language, to determine if the board's decision amounts to an error of law, is consistent," he wrote.

The plain language of the town code "contains no specific prohibitions against renovations to an existing structure, in the absence of damage or destruction, containing any limitation to the dollar value of the renovations relative to the fair market value of the existing structure," he wrote.

Seals said the facts support the appeals board decision to order the second-story deck removed because it expanded a nonconforming use. "The remedy fashioned by the board placed Camlin in the exact same position, relative to the setback violation, as she was prior to construction," the judge wrote.

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