By Brian Sherman, The Island Eye News Editor
Efforts by local governments to raise the cost and limit the availability of parking on South Carolina’s barrier islands might hit a roadblock this year.
State Sen. Larry Grooms, chair of the Senate’s Transportation Committee, prefiled a bill in December that would keep the Councils on the Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach from eliminating parking spaces and charging visitors to park on state highways without the approval of the Department of Transportation.
In 2020, the Isle of Palms City Council temporarily banned parking on one side of Palm Boulevard, which is a state road, and city officials have discussed the possibility of making visitors pay to park on Palm this year. The issue of paid parking on Middle Street on Sullivan’s Island, also a state road, has been broached by town officials as well.
“People in South Carolina love our beaches, and many of them believe there’s been an attempt to privatize the beaches,” said Grooms, whose Senate constituents live in Charleston and Berkeley counties. “They are doing so by limiting the ability for people to park. These are public beaches. In consultation with the Department of Transportation, we’ll come up with language that would ensure that we have access to our beaches.”
Grooms said he’s confident that the bill, S. 40, will pass. He emphasized that municipalities would still have the option to charge for parking, but only with prior approval from the SCDOT. The legislation, as currently written, says: “To provide that parking on state highway facilities located on barrier islands is free and any restrictions may only be made by the Department of Transportation.” Another purpose of the bill is “to provide that municipalities may not establish or alter parking facilities on any state highway facility without the prior approval of the Department of Transportation.”
Another important line of the legislation states: “Parking on state highway facilities located on barrier islands shall be free and may only be restricted by the department if the department determines that the restrictions are necessary under the circumstances.”
Grooms said he has heard from constituents in Mount Pleasant and other areas within easy driving distance of Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island who were “greatly upset that they were being denied access to the beach.” He pointed out that limiting parking is an indirect way to keep visitors from visiting the islands.
“They could still walk the beach, but there was no place to park,” Grooms said. “IOP becoming a private island was part of the rhetoric, and I don’t disagree. In essence, they were making IOP a private island.”
Members of the Mount Pleasant Town Council were scheduled to weigh in on the situation at a Jan. 12 meeting.
They considered passing a nonbinding resolution, presented by Councilman Jake Rambo, in support of S.40.
“We want to make people aware that the bill is there and that they can talk to their legislators about it,” Rambo commented. “The town of Mount Pleasant is very much in favor of passing this bill. It’s a big issue for our constituents.”
“They would have to demonstrate a real safety concern,” he added. “On IOP, they tried to say the issue was safety, but there were no incidents where someone had been struck by a vehicle or killed.”
Grooms stated that actions taken by local municipalities on barrier islands to restrict parking can sometimes hurt more than they help.
“In the grand scheme of things, when we divide up the state budget, it’s becoming difficult to get the rest of the state to invest in our beaches with beach renourishment and other things we do for our barrier islands,” he said. “Sometimes City Councils do things that make it more difficult. You can’t use paid parking as a means of restricting access to the beaches.”