Courtesy D'estny Childers/Simon Black
Victory was swift for the Wadmalaw Island community at Charleston County Council on Tuesday night. In front of a packed house, it was announced by council that the application for PD-171-Bolt PD was withdrawn before the meeting began.
The application, originally put forward by Seth and Tori Bolt, requested that a 34.7 acre parcel of land on Maybank Highway be rezoned from Agricultural Preservation (AG-15) to Planned Development.
Seth Bolt, a member of the Christian rock band Needtobreathe, and Tori Bolt, a former TV news anchor, have built a series of "eco-friendly, romantic, luxury treehouses," the Bolt Farm Treehouse, which they have reportedly used for short-term rentals. The Bolt Farm website boasts that the family's original tree houses in Walhalla, S.C. are the "#1 Airbnb in South Carolina."
Many Wadmalaw residents gave a sigh of relief, but understand that encroaching development isn't a one-time problem.
"Everyone on Wadmalaw, everyone I've spoken to has continued to reinforce the importance of remaining vigilant, remaining aware, remaining engaged," says Augustine Kim, a Wadmalaw resident. "Whether or not the Bolts try again, whether this is just a tactical pause on their part, or whether they genuinely decided to abandon this— they're not going to be the last ones. We all know that this fight is going to continue to happen."
The Bolt Farm tree houses sit off Maybank Highway on Wadmalaw Island
Similar Bolt tree houses have operated on Airbnb in Walhalla, S.C. for years
Even if the application was not withdrawn, the numbers showed an up-hill battle for the developers. Since the item was discussed in the planning commission on Sept. 9, roughly 300 letters of opposition were sent to Charleston County. Approximately 70 letters in support of the development were received by the county. The packet for the public hearing numbered more than 700 pages, many of which consisted of letters regarding the proposals.
"I'm extremely proud of the community for showing up the way that we did, for all of the hard work, the effort, the emotional labor that people put in," says Kim about the meeting's turnout, which brought out almost 300 people.
On top of that, the Charleston County Planning Commission recommended the application be disapproved on the grounds that the development is not consistent with standards and does not comply with the county's comprehensive plan.
"The island has always been well-served by a set of zoning restrictions that allow it to keep its rural and agricultural history alive by preventing the kind of urban sprawl that is spreading across Charleston County," resident Sarah McLester told the City Paper
before the meeting began.
Prior to this application, there had been no rezoning requests for that particular property, according to Charleston County.