‘Our voices are not being heard’: Groups take legal action to fight against new Pawleys Island neighborhood

A lawsuit has been filed against Georgetown County over this piece of land along Petigru Drive.
A lawsuit has been filed against Georgetown County over this piece of land along Petigru Drive.(Source: WMBF News)
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 1:33 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 15, 2023 at 5:40 PM EDT
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GEORGETOWN COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) – The approval of a new neighborhood in Pawleys Island has led to a lawsuit against the county.

Landowners and citizens groups filed a lawsuit on Friday claiming that the county failed to comply with state law after councilmembers approved a high-density, multi-family neighborhood in Pawleys Island called “Petigru Place.”

The request from Covington Homes to build the neighborhood shows the applicant proposed a six-building development off Petigru Drive consisting of a total of 12 paired ranch duplexes.

But according to the county’s comprehensive plan, the land is designated as medium density and is zoned for general residential.

The neighborhood was originally denied by the Georgetown County Planning Commission after a public hearing on Jan. 19, 2023, because it conflicted with the comprehensive plan. But on Feb. 14, 2023, the county council overturned the planning commission’s plan and approved Petigru Place with no input, review, consideration or decision by the planning commission, according to the lawsuit.

Johnny Ford has lived in the area where Petigru Place is slated to be built all of his life. He said there is a strong history in the Fraserville community and one that he and others want to preserve. He said when he heard of the new neighborhood, he knew he had to do something.

“From our perspective, we found there’s aright way to do things and if it’s not being done the right way, and our voices are not being heard, then that’s where we have a problem,” Ford said.

Cindy Person with Keeping It Green Advocacy, a nonprofit public interest legal organization, is representing the plaintiffs. She said that court action has become a last resort.

“Our first step in any legal controversy is to explore amicable resolution whenever possible. Unfortunately, the County has not been willing to sit down with us in an effort to work through important issues, so we are left with no choice but to pursue legal recourse,” Person said.

The lawsuit also claims that the zoning for general residential is not in compliance with South Carolina’s comprehensive plan.

Currently, the general residential zoning in Georgetown County allows up to 16 units per acre, but the state’s comprehensive plan states that medium density should only allow a maximum of five units per acre.

“The Petigru Place application would have been the perfect opportunity for County Council to determine whether the underlying zoning ordinance was invalid for conflicting with state law,” Person explained. “Instead, Council was instructed that its review was strictly limited to compliance with the county ordinance, which is not a proper role for Council as a legislative body.”

According to the lawsuit, the Georgetown County Council was not permitted to consider state law or the comprehensive plan in its decision to approve Petigru Place, and it also disregarded the planning commission’s decision and findings, as well as the evidence presented during the public hearing.

Person said in a statement that the council’s decision to allow high density on a piece of land that is designated as medium density not only defies logic and state law, but it also sets a dangerous precedent for the future.

While many are concerned about the traffic and flooding issues that the new neighborhood would bring, Ford said he just wants his voice to be heard.

“It seems like their voices fell on deaf ears. But just standing here at this moment, I would say to any county official, come stand where I am right now. Come and take in this entire environment feel, feel the spirit of the ancestors. I believe you would walk away different,” Ford said.

The lawsuit asks for the county council’s decision approving the neighborhood to become null and void. It also calls for Georgetown County to bring its zoning ordinances into compliance with the state’s comprehensive plan.

WMBF News reached out to Georgetown County for a comment on the lawsuit. A spokesperson said the county does not comment on pending litigation.