2020 battle over SC public beach access and parking ends year in a draw | News


First came roadblocks, prohibiting non-residents from visiting Charleston’s barrier islands during the pandemic.

Then came parking restrictions and talk of removing free parking near beaches.

And all the while, worries about the spread of the novel coronavirus from beach visitors have morphed into long-standing worries about traffic on the beach.

2020 became the year Charleston-area residents feared losing the ability to walk the beach without having to pay.

Sullivan’s Island considered charging for parking. Isle of Palms has proposed eliminating all free parking for non-residents – and also raising parking rates in paid areas. Folly Beach has temporarily barred non-residents from most free parking lots.

A Mount Pleasant interest group advocating beach access quickly sprung up, thousands of people, and sued Isle of Palms. The state Department of Transportation has crushed the Isle of Palms plan to eliminate hundreds of parking spaces along state-owned Palm Boulevard, and state Sen. Larry Grooms, R -Bonneau, has pre-filed legislation to clarify that beach parking on state roads is free unless otherwise specified by the state.

“I think it will pass and pass pretty quickly,” Grooms said. “Our state beaches are an absolute treasure and we don’t need overbearing board members isolating our beaches from the rest of the state.”

Now, as 2021 approaches with the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine underway, the upcoming beach season looks more promising.

Despite all the fighting for beach access and plans to reduce or eliminate free parking, beachgoers will find parking rules on the Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach in 2021 roughly the same as before anyone heard of COVID-19.

The battle for beach parking isn’t over – the ‘No Paid Parking’ bumper stickers and yard signs sprouting up on Sullivan’s Island are a visible sign of that, and the lawsuit against the Isle of Palms is underway – but it’s gone from a boil to a slow simmer.

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Bill Dunleavy, co-owner of Dunleavy’s Pub on Sullivan’s Island, led a campaign against the possibility of paid parking on the island. Brian Hicks/staff

“It looks like we’re pretty much where we started. Except now we’re paying attention,” said Lee Rowland, director of the Charleston Beach Foundation, a nonprofit group born out of the dispute over beach access.

Here is an overview of the status of the 2021 beach season on Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island and Folly Beach:

palm island: Of all the barrier islands in the Charleston area, Isle of Palms has enforced the most aggressive restrictions on beach parking.

In July, the city temporarily barred nonresidents from using 763 parking spaces, including all but 10 free parking spaces on the island, prompting a lawsuit by the Charleston Area Public Beach Access and Parking Group, which became the Charleston Beach Foundation.

Isle of Palms also proposed to permanently reduce the number of parking spaces available to non-residents, citing public safety, and to charge for any remaining parking. In addition, the city increased the rates for parking meters and existing parking lots.

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Signs were posted on both sides of Palm Boulevard on the Isle of Palms on July 27, 2020, when the city temporarily removed most free parking lots on the beach. Grace Beahm Alford/staff

In September, the state Department of Transportation threw cold water on the parking lot elimination project. “To date, we have not identified any safety issues along Palm Boulevard that would warrant eliminating the parking lot,” said SCDOT Secretary Christy Hall, echoing previous comments from the police chief of the city. town.

SC Department of Transportation rejects Isle of Palms plan to eliminate beach parking

Meanwhile, the lawsuit caused a pause in the city’s plan to charge for all parking on the beach.

With plans to eliminate hundreds of parking spaces canceled by the SCDOT and plans to charge for pending beach parking, Isle of Palms will enter 2021 with beach parking much like the start of 2020, except that metered areas and lots along Front Beach will cost more.

“Right now, parking is available at the same level as it has been for the past five years,” Isle of Palms Administrator Desiree Fragoso said. “These are conversations that will resume with the new Public Safety Committee in January.”


Traffic moves along Middle Street on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, on Sullivan’s Island. This year, Charleston-area residents feared they would lose the ability to walk the beach without having to pay. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Sullivan’s Island: In early 2020, the City Council discussed a pilot program to charge parking to non-residents, while residents would receive parking stickers and visitor pass booklets. That plan was not pursued, but the discussion sparked a business-led effort to oppose paid parking and put the issue on the ballot for a referendum.

“There isn’t a single company on Sullivan’s Island that offers paid parking,” said Bill Dunleavy, owner of Dunleavy’s Pub. “Either they drop it or we want it on the ballot in May.”

Several business owners posed for photographs holding “No Paid Parking” banners. Bumper stickers appear on cars, and Dunleavy’s leads a petition campaign among registered voters on the island for a ballot measure.

City Administrator Andy Benke said it costs the city $600,000 or more to provide services to beach visitors, and paid parking could offset those costs.

“It’s something our council needs to look at, as part of its responsibility to the ratepayers and the people who live here,” he said.

Benke said there is no paid parking plan in 2021.

Legal questions raised over Folly Beach parking and Sullivan's Island beach rules

Madness Beach:

Like Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, Folly Beach suffered significant beach access restrictions during the summer of 2020. This included a substantial but temporary reduction in free parking for non-residents, which has since taken end.

“We’re right back to where we were before COVID,” Mayor Tim Goodwin said. “I hope everyone can come park and enjoy the beach because of the vaccine, and this COVID story will be over.”

“We’re not trying to restrict parking,” he said. “We are trying to create more parking.”

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Cars are parked along East Ashley Avenue on July 16, 2020, in Folly Beach. File/Gavin McIntyre/Staff

A possible exception, Goodwin said, could involve changes to Center Street “so people don’t park in front of businesses and go to the beach for six hours.” So far no changes have been made.

The barrier islands have certainly not finished talking about parking. They have all worked for years to balance the needs of the islanders with the desires of the much larger populations who live nearby and want to visit the beach.

Isle of Palms advances plan eliminating free beach parking for non-residents


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