Town, Palmetto Dunes property owners settle beach-setback dispute with state

tbarton@islandpacket.comDecember 7, 2011 

Hilton Head Island property owners and the town have succeeded in moving state lines governing oceanfront construction closer to the water.

Town Council approved a settlement Tuesday with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and about a dozen Palmetto Dunes property owners. The town and owners argued setback lines established in 2009 were too restrictive and based on inaccurate data going back to the 1850s.

The lines meant oceanfront property owners in certain areas faced greater restrictions when redeveloping or building a home or hotel larger than 5,000 square feet. The lines extended from 60 to 300-plus feet inland in some areas, affecting second-row homes.

DHEC has agreed to incorporate 2006 data to calculate a new erosion rate, which pushes the setback line seaward by about 20 to 50 feet at mid-island.

The 2009 decision pushed the line significantly away from the water and gave DHEC jurisdiction over property that wasn't justified, said Charleston attorney Mary Shahid, who represented Palmetto Dunes developer Greenwood Communities and Resorts Inc.

DHEC resets oceanfront building lines every eight to 10 years, by law. In the past, it has used more recent data to establish less restrictive lines, attorneys for the property owners say.

The state also should have accounted for the town's beach renourishment program, said Curtis Coltrane, a town attorney.

State regulators said the 2009 lines better protect the coast from erosion. DHEC, though, agreed in an earlier settlement this year with Sea Pines property owners that data from the 1850s was inconsistent with the amount of sand that has accrued at Sea Pines Plantation over the years.

The state agency, however, still maintains the validity of incorporating the 1850s-era data elsewhere along the coast -- including at Palmetto Dunes -- where there has been long-term erosion. Placing more sand on the beach pushes the shoreline seaward, but does not eliminate erosion, the agency contends.

The S.C. Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management, which has been discussing the topic and similar issues since March, opposes moving erosion baselines toward the oceans because of the unpredictability of sand movement and the uncertain future of beach renourishment. The baselines determine state jurisdictional setback lines.

The committee is making progress but has not decided whether minimum setback lines of 20 feet should change, said its chairman and island attorney, Wes Jones Jr.

An April 2010 report says the state's policy on pushing new development back from the beach has been too weak.

Others argue the law needs to be more flexible for developed areas of the coast, such as Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach.

The committee meets Jan. 17 in Columbia. It plans to issue recommendations this summer, Jones said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at

Related Content

  1. Sea Pines residents settle beach-setback dispute with state: March 30, 2011
  2. Shoreline management board to hold first meeting: March 28, 2011
  3. Hilton Head landowners sue state over oceanside building restrictions: Dec. 28, 2010
  4. S.C. Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management

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