Prepare To Vote May 5

By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Editor

The election to fill over half of the seats on the Sullivan’s Island town council takes place Tuesday, May 5. To help voters choose three candidates to fill 4-year terms and one candidate for a 2-year term, The Island Eye News posed a total of 10 questions on local issues to the six candidates. The responses to the first five questions were printed in the April 10, 2015 issue (view them online here The remaining five questions are addressed below. Additionally The Island Eye News is sponsoring a public forum at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 29 in the Sullivan’s Island Elementary School. Be sure to come out and take this opportunity to ask the candidates your own questions.

1. What do you feel is the biggest issue facing the Town of Sullivan’s Island today? What do you propose to do to address this issue?

2. Does the number of lawsuits the town is currently involved in (7) concern you about becoming / being involved in town politics? What do you think could be done to help avoid such litigation in future?

3. Issues surround Zoning and Building on the island have prompted litigation for the Town. Is there any part of the Planning and Zoning of the Town you think should be re-examined?

4. Do you believe the Town has always done its best to keep residents’ informed of its plans and provided enough time and opportunity for input? If not, how would you propose to improve communication with residents?

5. Do you have a particular, perhaps more personal objective in mind for your time on Town Council? Such as a project you would like to see finished/started?

Candidates for 2 Year Term: Voters will choose 1


Sarah Church

Biggest issue

Protecting our way of life as a single family residential community is by far our greatest challenge. We are faced with unprecedented growth just across the Ben Sawyer Bridge, which means more traffic, congestion, parking issues, and increased burden on our resources. While we should remain welcome to visitors, we must take measures to protect our small town way of life.

Strategic Ordinances—With thoughtful examination of our current ordinances and the strategic development of new ones, we can minimize the impact of growth. The development of a comprehensive paid parking plan would help residents who struggle with the rush of visitors to the beach and commercial district. Part of the plan can contain simple measures, such as requiring all 4 tires of a vehicle to be off the pavement (currently not a requirement). If strictly enforced through ticketing, this could generate funds to help cover the expense created by so many day-visitors (rescue staff/equipment, additional trash pick-up, and maintenance on beach access paths).

Commercial Zone Plan—In addition, we should reexamine our commercial district plan. There are still a few undeveloped lots in this zone—so we must discourage development of any business that would bring in substantial vehicular or foot traffic from off-island. On-site parking should be a requirement of any future establishments.

Essentially, we should look at every aspect of our ordinances to ensure they are adequately adjusted to meet the challenges we face today.


Sullivan’s Island Town Council has worked through some extremely difficult, controversial issues in recent years. The most important step we can take toward gaining consensus among the residents is to make sure all citizens are informed and involved from the beginning.

Even people who disagree with the final outcome will know their opinions have been thoroughly heard and considered—and in a timely manner. While it is every citizen’s right to sue the Town, I do believe that if we facilitate greater awareness and involvement in all issues—at all stages of decision-making—the number of lawsuits will decrease.

Planning and Zoning

As a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals, I see first-hand how our Town Ordinances are constantly re-examined by the very nature of our government process. When a variance request comes before the BZA, it’s an opportunity to see if that ordinance is effective.

There have been many instances where several requests for variances have led to an ordinance change. For example, limits on driveway width were given some relief after the BZA received multiple variance requests so that residents could safely exit their property.

Specifications for the breezeways connecting attached additions were amended to ensure the additions were not functioning as second homes on a lot, attached by only a long, narrow (and unused) breezeway.

And most recently, the BZA has requested that Town Council further examine the definition of an Accessory Structure after two recent variance requests came before the board requiring us to determine if the structure in question did indeed meet the criteria to be deemed an accessory structure.

Every issue that comes before the BZA, the Planning Commission, or the Design Review Board gives us an opportunity to fine-tune our ordinances to suit our needs as a community.

Communication with residents

There are multiple steps we can take toward improving public input and accessibility of information.

More Time For Comments—Require a longer waiting period for ordinances to be passed so that the public has time to voice comments and concerns. Hearing concerns shortly before voting is not sufficient.

Greater Accessibility—Live stream or video tape Town Council meetings, workshops, and committee meetings. Have them accessible on the town website for future reference.

Require Public Discussions—Require all discussions to be in public, not executive session, if they are not specifically about contracts or personnel.

Priority Information Section Of Newsletter—Have the SI Town newsletter create a priority information header section. This would contain the most pertinent town issues at the top, including topics of latest SITC meeting that might warrant public input or time sensitive issues.

Town Council Email—Create one email address that would automatically generate to all SI Town Council members and the Town Administrator.

Community Surveys—Create more town surveys, such as the one we should see shortly on the paid parking issue.

Informational Charettes—Host more informational charrettes for all new projects and receive public feedback, such as was recently done with the new Town Hall.

Project to finish/start

There are many projects that have not even been brought to the table for discussion yet that might be of interest:

Speed Reduction—Consider asking the Department of Transportation to reduce the speed limit on streets other than Middle and Jasper. The current speed limit is 30 mph where not marked otherwise. You don’t have to travel far on these back roads to find a child riding a bike, or a cat running across the street. I would like to see our speed limit reduced to 20 mph or if residents were in agreement, we could follow a trend of many island communities, and go to an unusual number such as 18mph.

Bike Path Guard Rail—Consider putting a guard rail along the new bike/walking path on the Ben Sawyer Causeway. This is a safety issue that should be addressed promptly. I have heard the Mt. Pleasant mayor is in agreement. One driver glancing at a text message and swerving just a little could have catastrophic consequences. An attractive guard rail just at the edge of the path will barely be visible as the sweetgrass grows.

Drainage Maintenance—Work with the SCDOT to ensure they are maintaining their storm drains. Just on my block are two catch basins that are completely clogged. It is the SCDOT’s job to maintain their infrastructure and keep them in operational condition and clear of debris.

There are many small steps we can take to improve our daily life here on Sullivan’s Island. I am ready to get to work. I humbly ask for your vote on May 5.


Dave Spurgin

Biggest issue

The biggest issue facing the town is the impending financial storm that is quickly bearing down on us. This turmoil was created when we started borrowing large sums of money to pay for projects with absolutely zero plans for how to pay it back.

Let me say this again. In the near future we will be faced with the very real choice of selling more town lots, raising property taxes, or increasing fees across the board—or a combination of all three—to pay back the money we have borrowed.

I have spent hours in recent weeks talking with town staff reviewing town finances. We simply do not generate enough tax revenue to cover any new projects. If our current financial strategies do not change soon, it is just a matter of time before you see your property tax bills increase significantly. The real question then will not be by how much property taxes and fees increase, but how often they increase.

Regardless of how this election turns out, we must immediately implement a comprehensive financial plan that takes into account both long-term and short-term capital needs, and meets our long term debt obligations. Continuing to spend money on pet projects without thought of how to pay for them must stop.

It would take a minimum increase in the millage rate of 8 points for the next 15 years just to cover our current debt. Not to mention that we will need additional millage rate increases just to balance our budget for cost of living allowances each year. We will also need an additional millage rate increase to fund the repairs to the sewer network alone which will increase the millage rate another 7 points. And water bills will stay excessively high through at least 2029.

Some will say that the easiest fix is to simply sell more lots. But do we really want to deplete our asset pool beyond what we already have?

In the last 24 months Town Council has sold 6 lots. In the previous 20 years they sold only 2. It is estimated that we only have 10-14 lots remaining. This is troubling because once the lots are gone, we will have no recourse other than to look to residents to pay for future projects. This will inevitably lead to discussions on raising property taxes, increasing density on the island, and even attempting to pull some of the accreted land out of the trust for lot sales.

I would encourage every resident to call current and prospective councilpersons and ask them about our financial situation. If they cannot give you a succinct answer in three minutes, then I question whether they should be on Town Council.


Getting sued is part of being a town. Getting sued frequently is not. I think one of the major reasons we are seeing an increase in lawsuits is because our Town Council has created a culture where those who disagree with policy decisions are cut out of the decision making process, effectively disenfranchising a portion of the population. The only option remaining, in order to retain their waning voice on the island and ultimately their quality of life, is litigation. Couple this disenfranchisement with our confusing and inconsistent application of town ordinances, and you have the current climate of continual lawsuits against the town.

I fully expect that the flood of lawsuits will continue until the culture of us versus them changes. I cannot verify this in any way, but my gut tells me that people are being promised one thing behind closed doors only to find that the reality is much different, forcing them to sue in order to get what was originally promised. It does not help that we have a council member who is actively engaged in business activity relating to the commercial district, who will not recuse himself from voting on issues concerning those same interests.

Planning and Zoning

I think there are two pressing issues facing the island regarding Zoning and Building. We have to take a look at the practice of buying historic homes and renovating them to be below the minimum square footage requirement in order to build a larger building on the same property, effectively splitting the lot. This is allowing density to increase while not taking into account what effect the new building will have on our already strained infrastructure.

The second issue is that we have to make sure we are enforcing our current zoning ordinances in a fair and impartial way. I am not opposed to the rights of property owners to do what they want with their land, but as a town we have to be consistent in how we apply our zoning ordinances. We need to make sure that our ordinances and zoning guidelines are very clear on what can and cannot be allowed, and ensure that our town staff is consistently interpreting our ordinances evenly across the board.

While property rights are and should be a concern, what one property owner is allowed to do with their property affects all of the neighboring properties, like it or not. The purpose of a zoning ordinance is to provide for equal protection of everyone.

Communication with residents

I think the town has done a poor job of keeping residents informed. It does not help that the Town Council has actually changed the process and duration of how ordinances are passed. By allowing an ordinance to pass in a minimum of 7 days we are effectively eliminating the ability of residents to give critical feedback on issues that directly impact their lives. The first thing that I would do as a council member is to eliminate the “quick vote” process that is currently in place. I would go back to a minimum of 3 readings before anything can be voted on. When it comes to government it is better to be slow and right than fast and wrong.

I would also require that all councilmembers be present for all votes. If a councilmember cannot make a meeting because of an illness or another emergency then they either need to have a proxy vote submitted or the vote needs to be tabled. Calling votes when your opponent is not available seems to go against the very spirit of what it means to live on the island, let alone democracy.

I would also strongly support the recording and archiving of all Town Council and committee meetings as well as posting these on the town website ASAP. It is taking a minimum of 30 days—and sometimes several months—just to post minutes for a meeting. That is way too long for residents to learn about a change and do their due diligence before the next Town Council meeting. It is our responsibility as citizens to keep our elected officials accountable. We need to allow residents to have open access to what is being said and done regarding how they are being governed.

Project to finish/start

The only project that I really want to see completed is a comprehensive financial plan put into place. The idea that we are spending tax dollars without any thought of how we are going to pay it back is crazy. It is absolutely ridiculous that we are taking on debt without any way to pay it back. This is going to lead us up a financial creek without a proverbial paddle. If we want to maintain our single family lifestyle then we have to have in place an appropriate financial approach to protect it. Backing ourselves into this financial corner only leads us more quickly to difficult decisions on population density, our accreted land, selling off town lots, and the possible expansion of the commercial district. Had we practiced just a little sound financial planning we might not be faced with such difficult decisions at such a critical time.

I do not have any personal agenda for wanting to be on Town Council. I am running because I truly want to serve the island. I simply want to protect the rights of all of our citizens to be heard as it relates to our mutually shared future in a financially responsible way. How I personally feel about any given issue is irrelevant. Our recent history has shown that not all voices are being heard and I want to make sure we do not repeat the mistakes of our past.

I deeply believe that the people make the best decisions when it comes to government. We just have to step out of the way and let their voices be heard. If given the chance to serve, I will work hard to earn your vote, and more importantly your trust.

Candidates for 4 Year Term: Voters will choose 3


Mark Howard

Biggest issue

I believe the single major issue facing the Island is the maintenance of our quality of life. It starts with the Island’s use of its natural resources by both visitors and residents. However, the summer/ tourism season has now stretched into almost year round making the “off season” a very brief period indeed. This is a matter of dealing with our success.

This matter affects every Town Council issue. It is a bedrock concern in negotiations on a parking policy. It should be the overriding concern when reviewing the overall health of and plans for the commercial district. Getting on and off the Island now requires mathematics and traffic reports. I cannot think of any issue that affects Islanders more. The preservation of quality of life has always been a leading consideration and an anchoring tenet of my campaign. We will always best be served when we consider all issues with a quiet, single-family residential community base. It should be our principled starting point when considering all present and future issues.


The number of current lawsuits has not affected my desire be of service to the island. I do not believe the town is out to hurt any individuals by its actions, but rather most lawsuits are a matter of code /zoning enforcement. It is the town’s policy not to discuss ongoing lawsuits in public. That is a wise policy, which aids in avoiding hurtful personal insinuations. What saddens me the most about lawsuits in general is that people stop talking and lawyers start billing. Another problem is the time involved in settlements. This is unfortunately reflective of the current state of our court systems and bears little resemblance to the issues involved. Regardless of whichever party is successful in a particular lawsuit I hope the base issues are studied with the goal of improvement for all the people. My sense of things is that council could benefit if it allowed more input from citizens on the larger issues. More forums or open meetings on a single issue that attracts larger than usual gatherings of Islanders seeking more information.

Planning and Zoning

Overall I am satisfied with the goals of our zoning and building codes. Whenever a governmental agency tries to codify human activity issues are bound to arise. Some issues are inherent. Take for instance the size of our island lots. Large lots, some stretching from street to street, present issues most municipalities do not have to contend with. Many of our efforts are aimed at just keeping those lots single family only. It becomes more difficult with time and increases in property values. The maintenance of a historical and single family location while initially attractive to many, becomes a personal dream killer when some develop home plans. It is within an atmosphere of preservation that the town is trying to manage most of its zoning ordinances.

I do have some concerns about the recent Commercial Overlay District. The base approach was to limit development. I believe good intentions produced much good work but a review is in order to allow more citizen knowledge and involvement. I would like a review of height, parking minimums and need requirements, along with more historic considerations given to this area. If all that is allowable happens, what have we created and what is its overall effect? The base of my concern is that it warrants more scrutiny and review now, rather than later.

Communication with Residents

As a resident who actively tries to keep up the “doings” at Town Hall I have to report that I am often surprised by some new issue or action by the Council. I do not mean this in that they are purposely trying to get something over on the residences, but rather at times they move without enough citizen input. This can be a difficult line to define. The Council recently has rightly tried to reduce the many and repetitive hours some of their work was requiring. This was a wise and supported effort. However, something has got lost in the streamlining. What is most surprising is that these overlooked items could be major issues and not the day-to-day work most people would be more understanding of.

I strongly support proposals that will help in furthering communication. First, I recommend and hope to vote on the reestablishment of a third reading on town ordinances before passage. This ‘time saving’ measure removing a third reading was inappropriately passed by the last council. Its unintended affect shortens by a month any means for the citizenry to response to a proposed ordinance. This may have been justifiable on daily matters but a new ordinance is not day-to-day business.

Projects to start/finish

I would like to see within a completed term the development of an implemented Accreted Land Management Plan. This plan would allow for the mature and healthy development of this property and take into consideration the concerns of all Islanders, while stopping the hurtful practices that are allowed today. I strongly believe that ‘given its head’ the mature and natural development of this land with proper management procedures will allow satisfactory results for all. Mother Nature’s completed work rarely disappoints.

My concerns also extends to infrastructure management. The sewer plant, not a widely popular subject, merits our attention and concern. There are many directions I can think of that I would love to see the Island take. I look forward to improvements in the landscape beautification of the Island entrance way and signage. Our current look is a bit dated and one’s entrance makes the important first impression. I recommend an updated lighting system within the commercial district that should make for safer passage. I believe in some advances in access to the marsh side of the Island for the public. However, all this in good time within a secure budget.


Jerry Kaynard

Biggest Issue

Explosive growth from our neighboring inland communities threatens dramatic change to the residential character of our small island community.

From the ocean side, we face intense pressure from state and federal government officials who want to proceed with seismic testing and offshore drilling for oil and gas.

In anticipation of problems coming from growth and development off the island, as Chairman of the Administration (Personnel) Committee, I led the effort to hire the first full-time Zoning Administrator to enforce our residential zoning codes. I have twelve years experience as Assistant City Attorney (for the City of Charleston) in writing, enforcing and defending zoning ordinances. We have adopted zoning policies to prevent expansion of short-term rentals and to prohibit commercial residential rentals (hotels and motels). We must continue to support public facilities like the new Sullivan’s Island Elementary School to attract and increase families with school-aged children on the island, which strengthens our commitment to residential neighborhoods. We must oppose those who threaten our beaches with offshore drilling for oil and gas. I presented a Resolution to Town Council, which was adopted at our last meeting to oppose offshore drilling for oil and gas. We must speak loudly as a community to prevent the industrialization of our pristine coastlines.


As a practicing lawyer for forty years, I understand that we live in contentious times where lawsuits are often the first resort, rather than the last resort, when a controversy arises. Many of these lawsuits involve complex zoning issues, which are difficult to resolve.

Sometimes, the attitude of public officials can determine whether a reasonable solution can be reached or whether a lawsuit and conflict results. We need to understand that often mediation, negotiation and discussion can avoid litigation, which is expensive and rarely solves the core problems. Lawsuits often become a form of combat, with the parties thinking of themselves in terms of winners or losers. There are rarely winners in lawsuits. Sometimes, the costs are difficult to define, where residents feel alienated from their government. The attitude of our town government should be to provide service to our residents, avoid conflict, and seek to resolve controversies through all means available to us, and to avoid litigation whenever possible.

Even after litigation starts, conflicts can still be resolved through mediation, arbitration and compromise. This requires sincere efforts on both sides of a conflict and the willingness to let go of personal desires for a public victory.

Planning and Zoning

I think we should take a good look at the entire Zoning Ordinance. It was adopted in 2005 on the recommendation of a consultant, after community input. However, what we got is a “subdivision zoning ordinance” with modifications. There are protections for our residential neighborhoods with concepts of “neighborhood compatibility.” Town Council adopted limitations on the size of residential and commercial structures and incorporated the concept of one house on one lot.

We intentionally restricted commercial activities to the small, three block commercial district. I led the effort to hire a full-time Zoning Administrator to enforce our zoning ordinances and protect our residential community. We now have ten years of experience with the new Zoning Ordinance. It is time to look carefully at what has worked and what is lacking. We need to assess our enforcement effort and the fairness in the application of zoning regulations. Constructive self-criticism can be productive and we should always be looking for ways to improve our Implementation of the zoning laws.

Communication with residents

I served on a citizens committee before I was first elected to Town Council in 2007. At that time, there was considerable feeling that town government was “circling the wagons” and was resistant to public participation. Major efforts have been made to make use of the media, the internet, the town website and mass communication devices to inform the residents of town activities. At Town Council meetings, there is a public comment portion of the agenda, which is well used and effective. At Council workshops, the audience often participates in questions and discussions. Information is available for those who make an effort to obtain it. Still, more can be done. I am an advocate for Town Hall Meetings, surveys of residents for Town priorities, and monthly newsletters to residents. All communication methods should be utilized to provide current information. When there are matters that require confidentiality based on legal advice, Council must act prudently to protect the public interest. Council should provide its residents with full and complete information in a timely manner.

Projects to finish/start

I would like Town Council to invest in major improvements to the Island Club. This World War II vintage military building is in poor condition. There are no windows and it is dark and uninviting inside. The plumbing and electrical systems need modernization. I have been advocating for improvements so that this building can be better utilized as a community center. At my request, Steve Herlong has prepared a conceptual plan for improvements to the building, which include many windows, modern bathrooms, updated plumbing and wiring, opening the interior ceiling to the rafters, and adding an exterior deck. Just as the Sullivan’s Island Elementary School is important for keeping families and students on the island, our future as a small, community neighborhood will be greatly enhanced with a first-class, community center to expand activities for students, senior and all residents. This will provide an intimate and attractive venue for cultural, social, recreational and educational activities. These activities help build the fabric of our friendly, small-town community and are our best defense against external pressures for growth and development.


rita langley

Biggest issue

I believe developing a comprehensive parking plan and implementing a management strategy for the accreted land are the two biggest issues facing this Island today. As we all know, parking issues are intensifying due in large part to growth in the surrounding areas and as IOP explores paid parking options. These factors will certainly add more congestion, parking woes, tax our infrastructure, and impact our quality of life. First and foremost I believe we need public input to develop a plan that considers the needs of our residents first.

This dialogue should evaluate paid parking options, limited parking spaces and restrictions on “party buses” that have increased of late. In the end, I believe we can find a solution that is fair, accessible, affordable and efficient.

As for the accreted land, the town has spent considerable money on experts and time soliciting community input. As a member of Town Council, I will advocate for a management plan for the transition zone based on the recommendations that evolved out of this public process and were approved by the LUNR Committee. I believe this is a good neighbor policy that minimizes fire hazard, provides a buffer from unwanted wildlife, and enhances breezes and sight lines.

After completing the tree survey in the entire accreted land, we can move forward with implementing a management plan and a strategy for eliminating invasive species. As public land, owned in trust for all residents, the accreted land provides a great opportunity for us to be good stewards of our Island home for future generations.


I am not deterred from being a member of council by the number of lawsuits currently pending against the town. Certainly the number of lawsuits is high for the size of our Island and defending them is becoming increasingly costly and time consuming. I believe that sitting down at the table and trying to find a compromise is always the best starting point. Nonetheless, the town has an obligation to defend the laws on the books—many of which we can thank for our quality of life and high property values—and unfortunately, in some cases, litigation is unavoidable. Fortunately, the Town has insurance that covers most of these legal expenses.

Planning and Zoning

As an owner of a historic home, I understand that our building and zoning ordinances can be frustrating and restrictive. But, I also recognize that our unique character and high property values are a direct result of our strict zoning. Having said that, I believe that our ordinances should be seen as fluid documents and reviewed periodically. There is a fine line between protecting the historic and unique character of our island while remaining open to change. For example, we should review and consider revising the types of business currently allowed in our commercial district. Last year, based on Planning Commission’s recommendation, Town Council passed an ordinance that prohibited chain restaurants. This change to existing zoning was a great benefit to our Island.

Communication with residents

I believe that the town is committed to keeping residents informed. However, as I speak with residents on the Island I hear that many feel the town could do a better job of keeping residents up-to-date on current issues. Based on this feedback, I believe there are a number of ways we could improve communication.

For example, I think we should consider extending the time requirements for approving a new ordinance from two meetings to three. This would be a return to an earlier procedure that I believe provided more opportunity for the public to be aware of pending issues. Also, as I have said before, I believe we should stream and record town meetings and make them available on the town website.

Lastly, we are a small enough community that we should consider direct communication with neighbors affected by a particular issue. For example, when the Planning Commission contemplated allowing multi-family housing in my neighborhood, I only found out accidentally when a neighbor happened to attend a planning meeting. This change in zoning would have had a huge impact on my neighborhood and I would have preferred that the town inform me earlier rather than later in the process.

Projects to finish/start

I would like to see the island inventory town owned property and develop a vision and strategy for these parcels. For example, we should consider designating some land to open space, playgrounds and recreation areas. Also, I believe the Island Club is a wonderful community asset. I would like to see the town make improvements to the building and support recreational activities for all ages.


Bachman Smith IV

Biggest issue

Dealing with an aging wastewater treatment plant to provide a long term solution is crucial.

This is likely not one that is at the front of many residents’ minds. Those issues lie in the accreted land and parking, among others. Further, the more people I speak with the more I realize how many issues beyond the three named here are “the most important” to the residents.

Considering I have mentioned three issues each requiring significant funds I might say that capital funding is our biggest issue. I would go even further and say the long view is needed with a thorough study of needed capital improvements in the form of a life cycle evaluation of the Island’s infrastructure in conjunction with a capital reserve funding study. With the many ways to look at this question, and knowing that to some degree all of the issues are connected at the purse strings, I still believe our wastewater treatment facility is at the top of the list.


My concern is about the number of lawsuits and not about how those lawsuits may impact me if I am given the honor to serve on Town Council. I believe the Town’s administration through its paid employees is in very capable hands. I believe the Town’s administration through its volunteer councils, boards and commissions comes from a well-reasoned and intentioned approach that can use some fresh ideas and thinking.

Unfortunately we live in a litigious society where there are individuals who prefer litigation when they feel slighted or wronged in some way, and those lawsuits cannot be addressed until filed. For the rest, there needs to be more open dialogue where both sides can step out from behind their conviction of what is right and what is wrong, who is right and who is wrong, and how things must be done. I hope to be elected so that I can serve all of the Island’s residents.

As much as I may disagree with someone I must respect a different perspective from my own in order to be the best steward of our Island that I can be. While my own ideas and ideals will inform my decisions I will look to the residents for setting baselines. This inclusive approach to governance is the best way to avoid the litigation that can be avoided.

Planning and Zoning

Just about every appeal, request or variance sought offers insight into that which can be more closely examined. Planning and Zoning are as imperfect as the people who implement them and are as imperfect as the unanticipated future makes them. This does not make them less well thought out. It does beg that Planning and Zoning be reconsidered as times change and unintended consequences manifest themselves.

Two items illustrate my point. First, there is the tree house that many of you are well aware of. I was part of the decision making process at the BZA that resulted in a denial of the appeal allowing the tree house to be finished. I did not like the outcome of that appeal but believe the right decision was made based on the ordinance as written and the laws under which the BZA is charged with its decision making. Not allowing the treehouse to be built as it was/is being built is an unintended and unforeseen consequence of current Zoning.

Second, current Zoning doesn’t allow for structures to be built or even exist on a residential lot without a residence in place. Our Planning and Zoning was established before climate change was considered in any serious manner and certainly before we realized sea levels are rising. If Planning and Zoning were implemented today in some newly formed coastal town these considerations would be front and center. A public policy of measured retreat from the coast should be encouraged. Good public policy in our coastal community should allow a residential lot to be used in some less impactful manner such that a residence does not have to exist in order for some lesser structure to be built.

For either of these situations to serve as a springboard for change we must keep in mind that a text amendment is not as simple as it sounds due to ever-present unintended and unforeseen consequences. This is not to say it can’t be done. I simply stress changes to our Zoning and Planning must be well thought out with the realization that there will always be unintended and unforeseen consequences.

Communication with residents

In 2012 the Council passed an ordinance to eliminate one of three procedural readings needed to enact an ordinance because it “is in the best interest of the Town to expedite the procedure for the passage of Ordinances . . .” (Ordinance 2012-5). In light of apparent inertia gripping the decision making process it seems to me that as well intentioned as this change was it has not always had the desired effect in practice. Going back to the three reading process would add another opportunity for community input.

With the construction of a new Town Hall live video streaming of Town Council meetings can be a reality and should be implemented.

I would caution that if live streaming is implemented there will be failures at times bringing further criticism on the Town for not being transparent enough. With implementation of live streaming should come the understanding that live streaming is not guaranteed and the mere existence of the service does not constitute a right for it to exist or for one’s ability to take advantage of the service.

Improving communication should always be a goal but putting forth a true best effort is not always practical. It is incumbent on those who wish to stay informed to avail themselves of the opportunities presented to be informed.

Projects to finish/start

I do not have a personal objective in mind in the sense this question is being asked. That said as I stated in the very first Island Eye publication that addressed this election, this Island speaks to me. It has given me and my family so much, and I believe I owe it some years of service and will be honored to do so if given the chance.


MJ Watson

Biggest issue

The major issues facing the Town are:

Management of the Acreeted Land—the Town has been working for a number of years to develop a management plan that will protect the natural maritime environment while at the same time provide access and view corridors to residents and visitors.

Managed Parking—with the continued growth of the East Cooper area, parking for year-round beach visitors becomes a challenge. In addition to added burden of expenses to the Town General Fund to provide for those visitors, it is critical that the Town manage how and where vehicles are parked in order to facilitate ingress/egress as well as the movement of first responder vehicles around the Island.

Municipal Capital Projects—completing the Town Hall/Police Station project, completing the Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrades, completing the Wastewater Collection System improvements and continuing the water line replacement project.


The Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance define how we as a community want Sullivan’s Island to look and feel. Litigation against the Town tells me that the Zoning Ordinance is achieving it intended purpose. Unless residents wish to change the sense of place for Sullivan’s Island, there is no need to amend the ordinance; and, therefore, the Town should continue to defend it.

Planning and Zoning

The Comprehensive Plan is the roadmap and guideline for land use regulations on Sullivan’s Island. It was created by input from residents and serves as a long range plan to make the vision become a reality. To that end, the Zoning Ordinance is the codified law of those land use regulations. Specifically related to the pending litigation matters, I have not received any public comment for change to the plan or zoning ordinance at this time.

Communication with residents

The Town has always endeavored to be open and communicative with residents. To that end, the Committee and Council meetings, which by the way have been on the first Monday and third Tuesday for almost 50 years, are advertised one year in advance. Moreover, the Council has always been open to public comment and questions during the meetings. Agendas are published on the website, general information is distributed to residents electronically, through the website and by first class mail and Council minutes through 2004 are archived on the website. Moreover, all members of Council and key staff members have public e-mail addresses and are available to residents. Finally, in the new Town Hall we hope to have video capability and will post each meeting for those who are unable to attend.

Projects to finish/start

In my mind there are five key objectives for the coming year. It is important to complete the Accreted Land Management Plan, complete the Town Hall construction project, complete needed improvements to the Sewer Utility, continue to study parking issues and provide better recreation opportunities for adults and children on the Island.

The election will be held Tuesday, May 5. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Sunrise Presbyterian Church, 3222 Middle Street. For information on voting, registration and general election information visit or call 843.744.8683 (VOTE).Come out and hear the candidates answer your questions at a special election forum being sponsored by Island Eye News and run by the League of Women Voters on Wednesday, April 29 at 6:30 p.m. at the Sullivan’s Island Elementary School, 2015 I’on Avenue, Sullivan’s Island. Come early to submit your written questions, doors will open at 6 p.m.

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