By Emma Woodham, Staff Writer for Island Eye News
Over 160 Isle of Palms residents turned out for the Isle of Palms Public Forum on Thursday, Feb. 1, for what Mayor Jimmy Carroll said he felt was a great success. Questions about ordinance amendments regarding sewer lines, coyotes, traffic and parking, and transparency of local government were the most popular issues of the night. Residents crowded into the room, each assigned to a different table. Each table seated six to eight people, and city employees from all different departments acted as moderators for each table. Mayor Carroll, all members of the City Council, two candidates for the open council seat, and even South Carolina Senator Chip Campsen were present— all in “listening” mode, meaning they did not contribute to the discussion, but instead took the opportunity to hear the concerns of the citizens. After Mayor Carroll welcomed everyone, Margaret Seidler of Seidler & Associates, LLC introduced herself. Seidler acted as the forum facilitator and explained that the city hoped the event would be a safe and productive venue for citizens to express their opinions. She also noted that all the information collected would be discussed later in the month at two different workshop meetings. At each table, residents introduced themselves briefly.
Islanders of all ages and backgrounds attended the forum, some who have resided on the island for less than a year and some who have called Isle of Palms their home for several decades. MJ O’Brien, an island resident, would like to see City Council focus on resolving the parking and traffic issues on the island, particularly the congestion created by day-trippers who park along the sides of Palm Blvd. “Summers here are horrendous, especially if you live in Wild Dunes,” O’Brien said.
“That’s why everybody breathes a sigh of relief in the winter— because you can actually get down the road and don’t have to worry about people running across the road or a car door opening.” Another resident, Chris Burrell, wants to see more transparency from local government. In addition, he doesn’t feel that the city always utilizes the best methods of communication. “Social media is not the best way to communicate with citizens. Some of them don’t have Facebook or Twitter,” Burrell said. For Sherrie Johnson, owner of My Favorite Things on Isle of Palms, it would be refreshing to see more police presence around town. She doesn’t feel as if the police officers are always very visible and would especially like to see more of them during the busiest days on the island. “I would like to see a police presence on Front Beach during the holidays,” Johnson said. Johnson added that she would also appreciate it if the police were a little more interactive with members of the community. Kathleen Turner said she thinks it would be helpful for island residents to attend council meetings so that they can stay more informed on the different matters that the City Council is discussing. Forefront on the minds of almost everyone in attendance were the proposed amendments to City Ordinance 2017-09, which will require any new construction or substantial home improvements within 150 feet of an existing sewer line to connect to the sewer line. In addition, the floor-to-area ratio will also be altered, meaning that the size of new construction can only be a certain size in direct relation to the size of the lot it is built on. A lot of questions regarding these amendments circled around the room and for the most part, the citizens of Isle of Palms simply seem to want more information on the amendments before the issue is decided. Many are confused about why the city is moving away from septic systems towards sewer when they have septic systems that seem to operate smoothly.
Several other forum participants suggested that City Council should delay voting on some of the bigger issues until the public has been given as much information as possible. As the forum wrapped up, the moderators presented each resident with a list of topics that City Council had drawn up and asked the residents to rank the issues in order of what they thought was most important. Council plans to review these rankings to gain a better understanding of what items it should address first. Because of fire safety codes, only a limited number of people were allowed into the room for the forum, and more than a dozen had to be turned away. Residents who were unable to attend this forum were given the opportunity to voice their opinions at another forum held Thursday, Feb. 8. “If you think of anything you forgot to talk about, come back. And if you come back, I would just ask you to bring a neighbor who didn’t come tonight. Ask them to come and be a part of the future of the Isle of Palms,” Seidler said