Judge sides with luxury treehouse business in Wadmalaw Island short-term rental battle

VIDEO: Judge sides with luxury treehouse business in Wadmalaw Island short-term rental battle

WADMALAW ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - A luxury treehouse business can continue to operate short-term rentals on Wadmalaw Island, a judge has ruled, but the legal battle against Charleston County is not yet over.

Bolt Tree Farm, LLC and Victoria Bolt filed a lawsuit against the county in December over the use of four luxury treehouses off Maybank Highway.

The business asked the court to rule that they can continue to advertise and provide short-term rentals in 2020 as permitted by the permit the county granted them and then attempted to revoke.

The suit stated that preventing the business from being able to operate as the permit specified would cause irreparable harm to the business.

The short-term rental permits for the property expire on April 1, so the court ruling will allow Bolt Tree Farm to continue to advertise and rent out their approved properties through that date.

The ruling also granted a stay from prosecution until the appeal is resolved or until the permits expire.

Bolt Tree Farm attorney Brandon Gaskins said the county’s actions and interpretations raise serious First Amendment and property rights concerns. He released the following statement:

“After being threatened with prosecution, the Bolts are relieved by the court’s ruling that the County must comply with its own laws and allow them to rent their property while the BZA appeal is pending. The County has provided nothing more than a cursory explanation for its decision to revoke the permits. Hopefully, the BZA process will require the County to fully disclose its evidence and interpretations of the law for the first time. Based on the limited information that has been disclosed, it’s clear that the County is broadly interpreting the short-term rental ordinance in a way that threatens fundamental rights of free speech and property rights. The County has gone so far as to claim that it is unlawful for homeowners to allow anyone other than family members to stay in their homes unless they have a short-term rental permit. We hope the BZA process will bring some clarity and common sense into what has become an absurd sideshow.”

Charleston County, meanwhile, said it cannot comment on pending litigation.

The short-term rental permits were issued in July and August of 2019, but then on Nov. 13, the county revoked them, claiming it had received “documents, information and complaints from citizens” who claimed the company was renting the properties more than the permit allowed.

Community members first raised concerns about the use of the tree houses in September when the company wanted to add more treehouses for rent. Some said they’re not against the Bolts, but rather fearful of opening up the area to commercial development.

“Once you go commercial, you’re not only opening up for the Bolts, you’re opening it up for every commercial builder in Charleston County and the whole state,” Wadmalaw Island resident Auther Rivers said.

But others on the island, including Sherrie Mack-Ford, who has lived on the island for 60 years, say they’re not worried about the couple living on their property or renting out their luxury treehouses.

“There’s no traffic here,” she said. “There’s no, there’s nothing going on. Basically we wouldn’t even know that it’s a rental place unless someone would have told us.”

The Board of Zoning Appeals is set to address permitting concerns but they have yet to set a date for that hearing.

The Wildflower Treehouse
The Wildflower Treehouse (Source: Carolina Rain Photography via Bolt Tree Farm LLC)

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