CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston County councilmembers are looking to potentially support a statewide bill aimed at limiting beach towns from restricting access and parking in the future.
As a response to multiple island closures and parking restrictions last summer, state senator Larry Grooms proposed a bill that would make parking along all state-owned roads in coastal municipalities free.
“It made many of us realize that we need to update our laws to ensure that the public will always have access to our beaches,” Grooms said. “They have historically been used for free parking, and have those parking places taken away it means that you’re taking away access to the beach.”
Since introducing the bill, Lowcountry communities are now coming out to support the effort, the first being Mount Pleasant, and now some Charleston County councilmembers.
“Since beach rules were put in place last spring, I have been a leader in voicing my opposition to local beach municipalities restricting beach access,” Charleston County Council Vice Chairman Brantley Moody said. “My constituents in West Ashley fear parking restrictions will prevent them from being able to visit our public beaches this spring and summer. I fully support Senator Larry Grooms, as this bill will allow our citizens better access to our beaches.
Charleston County Council will vote on an official resolution supporting the statewide effort Thursday night. Grooms said while the resolutions are not binding, they will help him once it is taken up in the state senate.
“If Charleston County Council does that also, that would be wonderful. We would like to be able to show support to my colleagues in Columbia,” Grooms said. “This is the exception where we do want state action to ensure access to the beach.”
Councilwoman Jenny Costa Honeycutt who represents James Island and Folly Beach said she has heard from many in her district calling for beach access protections beyond the coastal cities themselves.
“We need to make sure that the decisions are fair for the entire public, and residents of James Island have expressed deep frustrations about being prohibited from getting onto Folly Beach,” Honeycutt said. “It’s a conundrum. We only have so much beach space and we can only fit so many people on the island at one time, so we just need to find the fairest way to approach that.”
The bill would also require beach municipalities to go through the state department of transportation before making any changes to island parking.
“I think the bill tries to take the decision-making from the local body and give it to a public third-party that will be more unbiased in developing rules for beach parking,” Honeycutt said.
Grooms said he hopes lawmakers will look at the bill within the month.
“I am disappointed that we have not heard about this from anyone on County Council since we are a part of Charleston County,” said Sullivan’s Island Mayor Pat O’Neill. ”Sullivan’s Island continues to welcome visitors to our beach and our businesses.”
Officials with the City of Folly Beach and Isle of Palms declined to comment on the resolution and the state bill.