By Mimi Wood, Island Eye News Staff Writer
Did you know that nearly every property on Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s has a South Carolina Right Of Way easement? Do you know what that means?
In the simplest of terms, it means the state owns a portion of your front yard. Which begs the question, “How much do they own?” (and, more importantly, why aren’t they mowing it? And could I get them to do the whole lawn while they’re at it?!”).
Typically a strip of land between 10’ and 20’ running parallel to the paved portion of the street, the right-of-way width varies depending upon your location. Robert Clark, District 6 Engineering Administrator for the South Carolina DOT, explains that, from the State’s perspective, the primary purpose of the right-of-way is threefold: to allow the street to function properly, provide a shoulder for the road, and to provide for water drainage.
So, if it’s a given, always been there, always going to be there, and no chance of getting the state to mow it for you, why should you care? Because it’s not your land and technically you are not allowed to put anything there. However, more and more encroachments into the right-of- ways are popping up, and the safety concern is real.
Most residents treat the right of way as their own yard, placing objects, or more commonly, plantings, wherever they see fit.
Some do it unknowingly, “A little fence with Noisette roses would brighten the entry to my home.”
Some are a bit more deliberate, “A stand of shrubs at the base of my lawn might eliminate the pesky parking situation.” These actions, innocuous or not, can have serious ramifications.
While the state is more attuned to street function and water management, the local governments are highly concerned about safety. Right of way encroachments on the narrow streets of both Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms prohibit a driver’s ability to quickly pull off and yield to an emergency vehicle, needing immediate access. This is particularly critical during the peak summer season on the islands.
Andy Benke, Sullivan’s Island Town Administrator, exhorts another major concern that is less visible but equally critical: infrastructure. Benke reminds islanders of what’s hidden in the right of ways; water, sewer, phone, cable and electricity lines are all often buried there. The roots of trees and shrubs wind themselves around these utilities.
When the ground becomes saturated after a heavy storm and a tree goes down, it’s likely to take a water pipe or electric line with it, along with the potential to disable an entire block of residents. “Infrastructure is a BIG concern,” Benke said.
“It’s an ongoing maintenance issue,” he said. “People think they are trying to make the area prettier.” Typically, Sullivan’s tries to address encroachments in a friendly, non-confrontational way, managing the issue on a local level, directly with the homeowner.
Officials on Isle of Palms are trying to do the same. “We think most encroachments are inadvertent,” Marty Bettelli, Chairman of IOP Public Safety Committee, said. “We are hoping by bringing this issue to light, residents will voluntarily comply.”
If you have plantings or other landscaping in your front yard that might be in the right of way, check with your town or city administration for guidance on how best to proceed.