Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 1, 2011

South Carolina Supreme Court Allows Dock But Notes that Local Governments Do Have Authority to Regulate Docks and Aesthetics

Appellant’s property abuts a marsh.  The Office of Coastal Resource Management (hereinafter “OCRM”) issued a permit to appellant to construct a dock and walkway on his property.  However, pursuant to a municipal ordinance, appellant needed to also gain approval from the Rockville Design Review Board (hereinafter “Review Board”).  The Review Board declined to approve the construction, claiming the dock would violate the requirement that proposed structures not impede rural or scenic views of the marsh.  Appellant brought suit in the circuit court, which affirmed the Review Board’s decision.  On appeal, the South Carolina Supreme Court addressed whether the Review Board’s decision had evidentiary support for their conclusion that the dock would impede views of the marsh.

The lower court relied on two testimonies of interested persons, one which addressed the “beauty of unspoiled places” in general, and the other which addressed the potential impact of multiple docks on the views.  The Supreme Court found no evidence in the record that appellant’s dock would impede views of the marsh, and reversed the circuit court’s decision.  They noted, however, that state law permits local governments to mandate compliance of docks/walkways with local laws and regulations, including those regarding aesthetic concerns.

Rockville Haven, LLC v. Town of Rockville, 2011 WL 2321784 (S.C. 6/13/2011)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://m.sccourts.org/opinions/displayOpinion.cfm?caseNo=26985

Special thanks to Ross Appel, Esq. of White & Smith, LLC for sharing this case.  Ross offers that although this case was not decided on preemption, it certainly supports both local government authority to apply reasonable regulations to docks and the argument that this authority isn’t preempted by state law, such as the Coastal Zone Management Act. Over the years, some coastal local governments have considered imposing their own dock regulations concerning length and location (in addition to those established by DHEC-OCRM), only to ultimately decide against doing so over preemption concerns. This case may signal cause for reconsideration.


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