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New state rules could dictate beachfront development

Watch as a drone flies over Pawleys Island and Litchfield Beach during high tide

Parts of the beach are eroding away as water levels continue to rise.
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Parts of the beach are eroding away as water levels continue to rise.

Depending on how close your home is to the ocean, new rules could dictate what you can and cannot build on your property.

Newly proposed building restriction lines are set for approval by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control on Dec. 27. If they are approved, property owners within the setback line would need state approval to rebuild if they lost their home to a storm.

In the baseline, the more seaward line, wooden walkways, small wooden decks, fishing piers, golf courses, normal landscaping, groins and structures must be authorized by a special permit.

Between the setback line and the baseline, houses as well as “associated infrastructure” including decks, gazebos and other public access structures can be built, according to the DHEC website.

According to the DHEC website, the point of the lines is to “implement laws and regulations that support the state’s beachfront management goals and to guide development away from unstable beachfront shorelines.”

However, this is the last time that the baseline can be moved seaward “and it is being set after three consecutive years of storm damage,” Pawleys Island Mayor William Otis Jr. said. “This direction of the General Assembly to DHEC was established way before there were three hurricanes in a row.”

What does this mean?

Current structures will not be affected if the lines are redrawn, Tommy Crosby, public information officer with DHEC, said.

If they are damaged in a storm, however, those homes will need a special permit in order to be rebuilt.

If a home in the setback area is damaged beyond repair, a property owner can rebuild the home up to the same size. A new home, up to 5,000-square-feet of heated space, can also be built in the setback area.

“The setback area is not a no-build area,” Crosby said.

If a home is already built in the baseline it can remain. If the home received damage, it can be repaired with a special permit to “its pre-existing square and linear footage,” Crosby said.

If a home is damaged beyond repair, the owner will have to get a special permit.

According to Otis, there are about 60 houses on Pawleys that could be subject to the special permit if they were to be damaged.

“It is difficult to get and any application can be challenged,” Otis said. “It is subject to appeal by anybody who feel they have a case.”

For Otis, the decision to redraw the lines is concerning due to the fact that Pawleys Island can be severely damaged by storms.

“This is a substantial impact on property owners’ use of their property,” Otis said. “In some cases a very substantial impact. The list of things that are allowed are all subject to be changed by the legislature at any time in the future. Just because you can do it now does not mean you can do it in the future.”

Looking forward

Otis is hoping to challenge the process in order to have a longer comment period. Currently, citizens can comment until Nov. 6.

“This whole timeframe is compressed for property owners who have no idea what is involved in this to get them up to speed,” Otis said. “They probably need to hire attorneys and engineers to be prepared to comment and/or appeal. So we’re asking for them to delay this.”

If the lines become finalized on Dec. 27, property owners will have a difficult time making changes to their properties, Otis said.

He also hopes to challenge how DHEC determined how the lines would be established.

“This is a highly complex process,” Otis said. “At this point it is difficult to determine what went into the establishment of these lines. Basically, a period of three months to deal with something that impacts property owners to the extent this does needs more time for review by property owners as well as the General Assembly.”

The beaches of Pawleys Island and areas in North Myrtle Beach are still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Irma.

Beach rebuilding projects are taking place on areas of Pawleys Island as well as on Litchfield Beach.

In North Myrtle Beach, parts of the beach are scheduled for beach renourishment projects, which began on Oct. 7.

“I’m not saying it’s a bad decision,” Otis said. “I’m saying that now there have been three hurricanes in a row. To do it at this point is not appropriate or in the best interest of the state.”

Residents of the Grand Strand will have the opportunity to meet with officials on Oct. 25 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Thomas Mauser Auditorium, Building 600 at Horry Georgetown Technical College. The auditorium is located at 950 Crabtree Lane in Myrtle Beach.

Public comments can also be submitted on the DHEC website or sent in writing to DHEC-OCRM, Attn: Barbara Nealle. The address letters should be sent to is 1362 McMillan Avenue, Suite 400 in Charleston.

Megan Tomasic: 843-626-0343, @MeganTomasic

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