After trees, historic homes may be up next for protection – Coastal Observer


After trees, historic homes may be up next for protection

The ordinance will protect hardwoods, like these oaks, with trunks of 5 inches or more in diameter.

The town of Pawleys Island is one vote away from protecting trees from being cut for development. It now wants to protect something older: its nine houses on the National Register.

The strategic plan adopted by the Town Council in 2020 talks about the need to protect the character of the island. Mayor Brian Henry said the tree ordinance and the Architectural Review Board created in 2021 were part of that. 

“This is a big one; historical houses,” Henry said. “It would be sad to lose one of these houses.”

The issues are connected. Planning Commission members are concerned that two of the National Register houses that are now on the market are on lots that can be subdivided. That could lead to the removal of trees for new construction.

 The tree ordinance was initially proposed to apply only to new construction and to be part of architectural review process. But commission members added provisions to prevent clear cutting of property.

The measure that received the first of two readings from Town Council this week requires ARB approval to cut hardwoods with trunks of 5 inches or more in diameter, ornamental trees with trunks of 3 inches and pines with trunks of 10 inches. The measurements are taken at “breast height” of 4 feet above the ground.

 The ARB can delegate it’s authority to the town administrator. Dan Newquist, the administrator, said he thinks that fits in with the town’s building permit process, which it took over this year after canceling a contract with Georgetown County. The town uses a contract service, SafeBuilt, but the permit applications now originate at Town Hall.

The tree ordinance also ties in with another strategic plan initiative: reducing flooding from stormwater.

“If we’re serious from stopping flooding, we need to get a tree ordinance in place,” John LaMaster, a Planning Commission member, told the council this week.

He pointed out that the ordinance was recommended in a sea-level adaptation study completed for the town last year.

Council members have questioned whether a tree ordinance is too burdensome on property owners and whether it can be enforced.

“There are several remedies if someone cuts a tree,” LaMaster said. Those include a fine, mitigation, suspension of a building permit and a ban on contractors who commit flagrant, repeat violations.

“I know we pushed back,” Henry said. “I think where we landed is really good for the island long-term.”

After adopting architectural review for new homes, the town also considered ways to protect historic homes. Officials met with the owners of two homes, who said they wanted their property preserved, but didn’t want restrictions on improvements that might be made.

“I always have reservations when you tell someone what they can and can’t do with their property, but I understand this,” Council Member Guerry Green said. “The people who own old houses want to keep them the way they were.”

“It’s a tough one. How far do we go?” Council Member Sarah Zimmerman said.

She suggested that the town promote the tax advantages of preserving the historic properties.

LaMaster said the Planning Commission could research those.

Henry said council and commission members need to contact the owners to gauge their support for preservation measures.

He also suggested the commission look into the way the town regulates signs.

“You can’t tell the difference between a house for sale and a house for rent because of the size of the signs and the location,” Henry said. “There’s more what I would call blight on the island.”

He read an email he received from a property owner that said rental signs used to be smaller and that the change in recent years “makes the town look like one commercial strip.”

Henry also questioned the need to replace signs along the beachfront that tell people to stay off the dunes. The town is proposing to install 75 at a cost of $4,000 to replace ones lost to Hurricane Ian.

Police Chief Mike Fanning said the signs have to be posted for the town to enforce its ordinance protecting the dunes.

“I was just thinking about aesthetics,” Henry said.

He was reluctant to raise the issue of rental company signs, and didn’t mention names of those included in the recent email, but said he has had concerns for some time. 

“Would we allow a business on 17 to come stick a sign on the roadway?” he asked. “We have a sign ordinance, but I don’t think it precludes things like that.”

Green said some owners of rental properties have removed the signs.

Zimmerman suggested the town talk with the rental companies

“We’ll put it front of the Planning Commission,” Henry said.



Georgetown County Board of Education: First and third Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Beck Education Center. For details, go to Georgetown County Council: Second and fourth Tuesdays, 5:30 p.m., Council Chambers, 129 Screven St., Georgetown. For details, go to Pawleys Island Town Council: Second Mondays, 5 p.m. Town Hall, 323 Myrtle Ave. For details, go to   , .