Petition aims to stop expansion of luxury short-term rental homes on Wadmalaw Island

Published: Sep. 30, 2019 at 7:49 PM EDT
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WADMALAW ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - More than 2,200 people have signed an online petition intending to stop the expansion of luxury rental homes on Wadmalaw Island.

The business, Bolt Farm Treehouse, LLC, is looking to use the homes for short-term rentals and is requesting zoning changes to add more and to rent them year-round.

People who live in the area fear that zoning changes could lead to more development that they believe will change the character of the island.

Resident Wally Johnson’s family has lived on Wadmalaw Island since the 1970s.

“My mother bought this place for me in 1971 and she moved here almost immediately,” Johnson said.

He doesn’t want it to change.

“I’ve been working one form of another building the houses, building the shop, cutting down trees whatever,” Johnson said. “I built the dock and I like what I have.”

Bolt Farm Treehouse brands itself as an eco-friendly retreat and rental property. The homes appear to be built on stilts.

“We hear and understand their fears and we too don’t want to see the Island become overdeveloped,” Tori Bolt of Bolt Farm Treehouse said. “We respect the Wadmalaw Land Plan and hope folks consider the great lengths we went through to preserve our land, leaving more than 90% of it untouched. We hope to be the next generation to protect and preserve the rural, cherished nature of Wadmalaw.”

Bolt says when they first bought the property they intended it for personal use.

“Things changed and we have been open about things changing,” Bolt said. “Our circumstances changed from when we first bought the property.”

Charleston County government officials say the business currently has four homes on Wadmalaw Island. It’s a gated property on Maybank Highway.

Under current zoning, two of the homes can be used for short-term rentals for a max of 72 days per year. They're are also allowed five events per year.

Wadmalaw Island resident and Johnson’s daughter, Cris Schmitz, is also worried about overdevelopment in the future.

“We can live with that, but if we allow them to rezone it’s just going to open a big can of worms for anybody else that wants to come here,” Schmitz said.

The county says Bolt Farm Treehouse is requesting to have eight homes in total where seven could be used for short-term rentals year-round. The business would also like to remove the requirement that one of the homes must be their primary residence and are requesting 25 special events per year, according to county officials.

“All I see is people moving in here developing their land, next thing you know we have city water, city sewer and then we’re done because it will end up just like Isle of Palms, Sullivan;s Island, Daniel Island,” Schmitz said. “All the coastal islands are all gone because people didn’t stand up and fight.”

According to the Bolt Farms Treehouse website, it says it’s the ultimate blend of childhood fun and grown up luxury. They say it’s an adult only, tech-free nature retreat. The website states they have created an environment where people can rest, reflect, heal and reconnect.

The website also says the homes draw in people from across the U.S.. There are many positive reviews. There’s also a wait list for booking.

“We have heard first hand from guests who shared how their time at our farm helped them process something difficult, improved their mental health, healed a strained relationship, etc.,” Bolt said. “That is our hope for anyone who visits.”

Charleston County Government will have a public hearing on October 8 about zoning change requests.

There will also be a meeting at the Wadmalaw Island Community Center at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

“I like what I have and I don’t want it changed,” Johnson said. “I don’t want somebody to come here and tell me how to live. I want to be left alone to do my thing in the community that I chose to live in.”

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