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Isle of Palms City Council unanimously opposes bill reducing its control over parking

Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 5:37 PM EDT
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ISLE OF PALMS, S.C. (WCSC) – The Isle of Palms City Council is vowing to fight a bill it argues would take away some of its control over regulating parking “by all lawful means.”

The council unanimously approved a resolution during a special council meeting Friday morning, arguing Senate Bill 40 treats it and other barrier island communities differently when it comes to offering free and paid parking.

S. 40 would require free public beach parking – and allow paid parking -- on state highway facilities in beach communities eligible for beach renourishment funds. It would also require local governments to get prior approval from the Department of Transportation before adding or making changes to parking on state highways.

“S. 40, in an intended violation of equal protection rights of barrier islands, chooses to treat barrier islands in a manner differently from beach communities who are not barrier islands without any rational basis for this distinction,” the resolution reads. “S.40 also irrationally treats barrier islands differently from all other communities in this state which identically differentiate between resident and non-resident in parking regulations.”

Council member Randy Bell said state roads make up the majority of the island.

“We’re five square miles of land. We’re not growing, so we don’t grow parking places, and we do have a community interest first and foremost this is our home and our residential community,” he said.

Bell said it can already take hours to get off the island due to the sheer number of cars and worries not being able to limit parking could lead to a perfect storm of traffic issues – especially in the event of a hurricane or other bad weather.

“We don’t believe someone sitting in South Carolina’s state capitol should have jurisdictional control over public safety in the event of an emergency, nor should we have to reach out to the state highway department all under the guise of beach access,” he said.

Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, who sponsored S. 40, was not available for comment, but previously wrote on Facebook that he was “thankful the Legislature is taking action to ensure that our public beaches will remain open for all to enjoy.”

“Indirectly denying beach access by prohibiting parking will now be an unlawful act,” he added.

The battle is the latest parking-related controversy on the island. In September, the city council voted to remove more than 100 parking spots along Palm Boulevard, a move the Department of Transportation said was not necessary for public safety as the city argued.

Earlier this year, the DOT installed 240 new angled parking spaces to add more options where previously there was only parallel parking.

But with the region’s rapid growth, the city is stuck between adding parking and the additional traffic or turning people away from the beach.

“This was a targeted bill aimed at the Isle of Palms over parking and beach access and is not in the best interest of any community,” Bell said.

The legislation passed both chambers and is now sitting on Gov. Henry McMaster’s desk for a possible signature.

“Gov. McMaster is still in the process of reviewing the bill and greatly appreciates all input. He will make a final decision in the coming days,” a spokesperson for the governor said Friday.

The DOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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