Amenity avenue

The new entertainment area at Tanner Hall is next to the swimming pool. Century Development is the neighborhood developer.

Leroy Burnell

You can't sit on a beach in South Carolina without being in awe of the changing tides.

To think that a body of water the size of the Atlantic Ocean sways between high and low tide because of the moon's gravity is amazing.

Here in the Lowcountry, we tend to take this daily miracle for granted. The tide rises, the tide falls, every six hours or so, every day, forever and ever.

But to believe the water will always stop a few feet short of your beach house is to live in a fantasy world.

Even if you don't believe global warming will cause a rise in sea levels, you can't ignore what has happened in the past.

Present-day Columbia, after all, used to be on the coast.

Edge of America

Among the most fascinating stories about our changing coastline is the one about underwater lots at Folly Beach.

Those familiar with this funky island paradise, known affectionately as "The Edge of America," know that it's not what it used to be, at least in land mass.

Thanks to erosion attributed to the building of the jetties outside Charleston Harbor back in 1895, many houses that were second row on Folly are now beachfront properties. There's even a spot called The Washout that is a favorite for surfers.

There used to be another ocean-front street, appropriately named Atlantic Street, that is no longer there. The people who owned those properties now have nothing to look at but waves.

And yet, many of them still pay taxes, hoping against hope that their beachfront lots someday will return.

Underwater lots

According to Bobby Cale, deputy assessor for Charleston County, there are still 145 such lots on Folly Island, or what used to be Folly Island.

"We call them undevelopable lots," Cale said. "You can't build anything on them. If you look at the aerial photographs, some of them are clearly under water. Some of them are not totally under water, but they are basically on a sand dune."

These underwater lots are still owned by private individuals, while many others have been deeded over to the town of Folly Beach or a nature conservancy.

Longtime residents, like 85-year-old Vivian Browning, who still works in city hall as the assistant to the city clerk, said even she doesn't remember when those houses were there.

But the lots are still on the books.

According to Cale, these parcels have a minimum appraised value of only $200, but people continue to pay taxes in order to preserve their interest in the properties, some for decades.

Their annual tax bill, he said, is a mere $19.97. But $18 of that, ironically, is a stormwater fee.

So would they be able to rebuild if the ocean decided to give this land back?

"If the land accreted, they could build," Cale said. "They still own it."

Talk about eternal optimism.

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com or 937-5598 or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Ken_Burger.