042017 Pawleys Island: Town agrees to enforce width limits as violations rise
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Pawleys Island: Town agrees to enforce width limits as violations rise

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The town of Pawleys Island will hold the line at 4 feet, when it comes to the width of walkways between houses and the beach. Town Council decided last week to enforce its current ordinance even as the town administrator raised his estimate of the number of walkways rebuilt after Hurricane Matthew that don’t meet the code.

The town’s 4-foot limit on walkway width is the subject of appeals that have stretched over nine years. Robert and Pamela Wilkes, property owners with a 6-foot walkway, challenged the enforcement of the ordinance saying that a worksheet cited the greater width. Although they applied for a building permit, it hadn’t been issued before the walkway was built in 2008. The worksheet was subsequently changed.

The state and county allow walkways up to 6 feet in width. After discovering about a dozen nonconforming walkways on Pawleys Island that were built without permits after the hurricane last fall, Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri asked the Planning Commission to review the ordinance.

But last week, Town Council met in a closed-door session with Town Attorney David DuRant to discuss the status of the Wilkes’ appeal. They emerged to approve a motion by Council Member Mike Adams that the current ordinance on walkways be enforced.

Before the vote, Fabbri let the council know that his new estimate of nonconforming walkways is now at 20. And those are only on the southern third of the island. “I only did an inventory from Hazzard [Street] south,” he said. “I know some exist north, but it’s a little harder.” The width and height of the dune in the middle and north end of the island make it hard to assign an address to a walkway.

It isn’t hard to spot the new walkways, Fabbri said. They all have new wood. The width is a little harder to pin down. Some are only 6 to 12 inches wider than the town allows. “Not all of them are 6 feet,” he said.

Following the Town Council vote, the issue won’t be reviewed by the Planning Commission. “I was instructed to see that the code is enforced,” Fabbri said.

That will be done by Georgetown County, which has a contract with the town for building and zoning services. Anytime work is done without a permit the county requires the property owner to apply after the fact, said Joanne Ochal, the county zoning administrator. It has the ability to double the permit fee. If the work doesn’t comply with the codes, the owner gets an “order to remedy” by mail, Ochal said.

Although the building department usually issues an after-the-fact permit based on the plans, Ochal said it may be necessary for staff to inspect the Pawleys walkways for compliance.

If ordered to comply, the property owner could seek a variance. That’s what the Wilkeses did. It was denied because it couldn’t meet the criteria of the state law, which requires the owner to show a hardship. Because the work was done without a permit, the hardship was self-created, the courts have ruled.

In the Wilkes case, the issue is still before the state Court of Appeals. It upheld a lower court ruling that they must remove their walkway, but they have asked the court to reconsider.

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