By Brian Sherman, The Island Eye News Editor
The Isle of Palms City Council has passed yet another emergency ordinance aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus, severely limiting the number of available parking spaces in an effort to discourage daytrippers from visiting the island.
At a special meeting July 15, the Council approved Emergency Ordinance 2020-11, which started out permitting only recreational activities and prohibiting chairs, umbrellas and coolers on the beach and ended up eliminating parking along Palm Boulevard and at other locations on the island. The measure, which went into effect for 30 days beginning July 17, passed by a 7-1 margin, with Council Member Ryan Buckhannon voting no and Council Member Kevin Popson absent. Council Member Susan Smith voted in favor of the ordinance despite her opposition to making it more difficult for visitors to enjoy the beach.
“I’m surprised to see us being unwelcoming to the greater community and how they can access the beach, which has a variety of positive benefits and is a better alternative to staying indoors,” she said. “I think we are creating a lot of problems and potentially making some situations worse in terms of the coronavirus. We should not just be concerned about our island but of the greater community. That’s where the spike is coming from – not so much from our island residents.”
Parking on Palm Boulevard will be available to island residents whose vehicles display the proper decal, as well as to contractors doing business on the street and members of the Turtle Team, volunteers who walk the beach searching for sea turtle nests. All others will also be prohibited from parking on Third through Ninth avenues and on Hartnett between 27th and 29th – except for those with residential decals and people using the Recreation Center. In addition, only 50% of the spaces in the municipal lots will be available. Golf carts will be treated the same as other vehicles.
The ordinance also prohibits restaurants and bars from offering live entertainment after 9 p.m. and limits restaurants and bars to 50% occupancy.
Most of the Council agreed that the action was necessary to help protect island residents from the virus that has ravaged the Lowcountry and the state of South Carolina. Mayor Jimmy Carroll pointed out that he met with other area mayors July 13 and with the mayors of the beach communities July 14 to discuss efforts to stem the tide of the pandemic.
“We’re not in an ordinary time. If we don’t do something now, we are going to be dealing with an extreme shutdown,” Councilman Randy Bell said. “It’s time for some extraordinary measures across the state to get this thing under control.”
Police Chief Kevin Cornett told the Council that doing away with parking on Palm Boulevard could cause traffic problems on the island. He said day-trippers will expect parking to be available there.
“Even if you block it off, people will park there and get tickets,” he commented.
“We won’t know until we try it, but I do think it will back up traffic.”
He added that the Police Department hasn’t seen much problem with social distancing on the beach along Palm Boulevard between 21st and 41st avenues but pointed out that with parking for day-trippers eliminated in that area, many of them will end up parking on Front Beach and adding to the crowds on that part of the beach.
Bell pointed out that he received emails about the original proposed ordinance from island residents and that 90% of them were against limiting chairs and umbrellas on the beach.
“We’re going to have unintended consequences, but everyone needs to focus on the primary objective – reducing the number of people coming to the island,” Bell said.
“We have way more vacation visitors than the other islands. We’ve got to get our arms around the day-tripping.”
“We have got to take some type of drastic measure to keep the crowds from coming to the island,” Council Member Phillip Pounds said. “We are residents first here.”
Council Member John Moye agreed with the majority.
“The efforts we’re undertaking today have to be radical. We have a serious major crisis on our hands here. We’re trying to reduce the crowds that are coming to Isle of Palms. We can’t handle the tens of thousands of people coming to this small island.”
Smith asked that the issues of eliminating parking on Palm Boulevard and limiting the capacity of bars and restaurants be voted on separately, but her efforts were rebuffed by other members of the Council.