ISLE OF PALMS, S.C. (WCBD) – Charleston County Council is weighing options and considering stepping into the battle over beach parking once again. This comes as the South Carolina State House is getting involved in the fight by taking up a bill that would limit the restrictions local municipalities can put in place against beach access and parking.
While it’s just a bill for now, if passed it would make beach parking free including along Palm Boulevard on the Isle of Palms. It’s a stretch of road that was the topic of several council meetings both city and county wide that provided heated debates. Now Charleston County leaders are gearing up to put their support behind the bill filed by State Senator Larry Grooms.
Tensions over beach access have been on the back burner for weeks, even months but could be heating up once again for a return to the surface.
“I think we were all concerned about losing access to the beach as we should be,” say Charleston County Councilman Herbert Ravenel Sass III during a county council meeting Thursday night.
The conversation during Thursday night’s county council meeting was opened by Councilman Brantley Moody asking council to share thoughts on a possible resolution that would back the filed bill.
“My constituents are sick of it and I’m going to speak up for it,” says Councilman Moody who represents parts of West Ashley.
Most restrictions have since been lifted for the off-season but Councilman Moody is leery a second wave of restrictions could be on the horizon as visitors return to the beach.
“Now we’ve had the fall and the winter so things have been quiet but I know that the weather is going to warm up and I bet these restrictions are coming back,” says Councilman Moody.
Access on barrier islands was originally limited due to COVID-19 but when restrictions remained, a movement for free access ensued among Lowcountry residents and far beyond county lines.
“Since the beach communities began limiting access and parking last spring, my West Ashley constituents have made it abundantly clear to me that this is unacceptable,” says Councilman Moody.
Now state legislators are attempting to take matters into their own hands in hopes of getting a handle on the situation by filing a bill to open access along state maintained roads while also preventing any paid parking on them.
Paid parking in Charleston County in a lot of areas, is common,” says Charleston County Councilman Dickie Schweers. Councilman Schweers questions the ability to block some municipalities in the county from adopting paid parking while others are allowed to charge for parking. “If barriers islands are singled out and are forbidden from doing what other municipalities are already allowed to do.”
Councilman Schweers believes island communities should be able to charge for parking but believes it’s an initiative that should be run through the state before being formally adopted.
“I think the state should certainly have a say and that was always my understanding that that was already the case on the barrier islands,” says Councilman Schweers.
In a statement from Sullivan’s Island Mayor Pat O’neil that says; “I am disappointed that we had not heard about this from anyone on County Council, since we are a part of Charleston County. Sullivan’s Island continues to welcome visitors to our beach and our businesses.”
News 2’s also reached out to Isle of Palms Mayor Jimmy Carroll who declined to provide a comment for the story. We are waiting to hear back from Folly Beach town officials.
County Council plans to draft a two or three sentence resolution in support of the bill in the coming weeks. Council is also planning to sit down and meet with the island mayors in the next few weeks in hopes of reaching some middle ground.