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Sullivan’s Island Town Council Meeting: October 16, 2018

By Gregg Bragg, Island Eye News Staff Writer

Calling attendance at the Oct. 16 Council meeting for the Town of Sullivan’s Island (TOSI) “robust” is probably an understatement. Residents streamed into council chambers well in advance of the scheduled start time, and standing room was the only option by the time the gavel fell at 6 p.m. The Town’s annual audit was on the agenda, along with the expectation a decision would be made on how TOSI will manage its maritime forest/accreted land/transition zone in the future.

There are approximately 60 million square miles of land on the planet, and 13,000 of those miles are considered “barrier islands,” with the single biggest pocket of the category occurring in the Arctic. Although the previous numbers were gleaned from the internet, they provide a window into the rarity of a place like Sullivan’s Island.

Mayor O’Neil felt obliged to remind the room Sullivan’s is a small island (e.g. friends and neighbors all) as he opened the floor to citizens’ comments urging civility. There would be a strict two-minute limit on comments, and reactions like booing, hissing, clapping, cheering were strongly discouraged.

O’Neil concluded his level setting, and the parade to the podium began.

Three attendees spoke in favor of TOSI’s ban on plastics, while over a dozen people rendered informed opinions on managing the transition zone including: Cindy Ewing, Penn Haygood, Susan Middaugh, Roy Williams, Dean Kilpatrick, Alison Bourland, Mike Walsh, Jim Burns, Kimberly Brown, a representative of the Audobon Society and Maria Andrews.

Some of the many points made on both sides included:

  • There’s never been a maritime forest fire on SI
  • It’s a fire hazard
  • It’s not a fire hazard according to the experts at Firewise
  • It’s a buffer against erosion, flooding and hurricane damage (several residents claimed it stemmed damage during hurricane Hugo)
  • Owners of adjacent lots should not be able to cut on land they don’t own
  • What legacy does the Town want for its administration
  • Its existence contributes to lower insurance rates
  • Take care of our land so it can take care of us
  • If unchecked, it’s an eyesore
  • It’s a valued, beautiful and coveted resource
  • It’s a breeding ground for coyotes

The arguments were compelling, passionate, and civil. However, the “best in show” award may go to Alison Morrisey. She punctuated her arguments for doing the bare minimum by singing her signature version of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi.

Applause erupted and stopped as quickly, eyes turning to see if Mayor O’Neil had caught them in the act. The Mayor grinned back and agreed singing warranted a little applause, and a muted version of the display concluded citizens’ comments.

Emily Sobczak managed to buck the stereotype of the staid CPA by informing council she would need more than two minutes to deliver Greene Finney, LLP’s 2018 fiscal year audit report. She informed residents she and her firm had rendered an “Unmodified Opinion” of the Town’s finances, which is industry-speak for as good as it gets. For complete details, visit the Town’s website.

Council turned to its list of action items and passed the third and final reading of ordinance 2018-05. The measure changes section 35, section 14-35 to read “Access easement agreement and restrictive covenant with Ward V.B. Lasso.” The measure passed unanimously.

TOSI’s plastic ban, ordinance 2018—06 also passed unanimously, but not without some handwringing. Councilmember Howard lamented the way the measure had grown in scope and worried about the slippery slope of TOSI being put in the position of responding to the crises du jour.

He inveighed on law enforcement to be gentle.

Ordinance 2018-07, affecting the structures and uses of non-conforming, historic accessory dwelling units passed unanimously, along with approval of a new heating and air conditioning unit for the Battery Gadsden Cultural Center. Content for a sign proposed by the Sullivan’s Island Park Foundation was discussed briefly, and deferred. The pace of the meeting slowed dramatically at this point as the topic of the transition zone came to the floor.

TOSI takes pride in its transparency. Manifesting it, however, requires public discussion of the details that produce a decision. The exercise can take time especially since this issue has been around for nearly a decade.

The Town began work on the subject in 2009 with an Accreted Land Management Plan for the 110 feet of maritime forest, which had been deemed a public land trust area.

A solution was drafted in 2011 despite legal action from a group of residents with property bordering the land, who wanted to preserve their property in the same state it was in when they bought it (e.g. little or no maritime forest). TOSI forged ahead, adding detail to the plan, which was approved for a vote after a meeting in early 2016.

 The plan included:

Band I (0-40 feet):

  • All non-native invasive species of flora shall be eradicated
  • All trees > 6” DBH shall be retained, except cedar and pine species
  • All understory, shrubs (including myrtles), cedar and pine species and small trees (defined as < 6” DBH) shall be removed

Band II (40-100 feet):

  • All non-native invasive species of flora shall be eradicated
  • All trees shall be retained within this band
  • Where the band is adjacent to the forest areas: all understory, shrubs and myrtles shall be removed
  • Where the band is adjacent to grasslands, shrub and nonforest areas: three-quarters (75%) of all existing myrtles shall be removed as will any that sprout in their place. 25% of myrtles shall remain in those areas where myrtles currently exist

Action on the above was deferred until the SC Court settled the lawsuit in the Town’s favor in August 2018, clearing the way for TOSI to proceed.

Council member Smith moved to amend the proposal reducing actions associated with Band I to thirty feet, and keep trees >3”. He garnered the votes of councilmembers Campbell and Langley, but the amendment failed.

Councilmember Chauncey Clark offered his own amendment, which involved expanding the actions in Band I to 60 feet among other things, but couldn’t muster the votes. Council then returned to core proposal detailed above, and couldn’t muster the votes. The mayor closed the matter with a vow to address the matter at the earliest possible date, but because the state is involved a drawing board may be required.

The Town’s attorney announced completion of a year’s work on TOSI’s comprehensive plan, and the finance department proposed a 2% tax increase on property and business licenses (validation by ordinance required), and building permits (validation by resolution required).

Councilmember Tim Reese announced plans to increase dog licensing fees by $15.

Exhausted, council then addressed the remaining agenda item; an executive session for “Personnel – review of applications for terms…” but decided it could wait for another time, and moved to adjourn after 2 hours, 40 minutes and 47 seconds of vigorous debate. The motion passed unanimously.

The next regular meeting of the Town of Sullivan’s Island will be Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 6 p.m.

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