— The future of the most acclaimed beach in the Charleston area could pivot on two escape clauses in a 100-year lease signed nearly 40 years ago.

Lease? It should be around here somewhere

Maybe the most striking thing about Charleston County’s 100-year lease for Beachwalker Park is that the county can’t find it.

A month after The Post and Courier requested a copy of the lease, the county’s legal department hasn’t been able to produce it.

“The Beachwalker Park lease was signed in 1976, and no one department is responsible for archiving it. We are still looking,” said Shawn Smetana, media relations coordinator, in an email this week.

That’s a “sticking point” for the county if a dispute emerges with Kiawah Development Partners over terms of the lease, a law professor said. But it doesn’t create any real problems.

Courts accept the regular practice of contract terms as evidence that a contract exists, among other evidence, said South Carolina School of Law professor Eboni Nelson, who specializes in contract law.

“Typically, you do keep a long-term contract on file. But, you know, businesses change offices, things get moved around and all of a sudden you can’t find it,” she said.

The Post and Courier this week obtained copies of the lease and addendum partly from Kiawah residents and after requests to the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission.

The clauses could play a role in negotiation over what happens to Beachwalker Park if a development access road is run through its parking lot.

That possibility has raised concerns in the community about whether and how the park will remain open.

On the face of it, the lease to run the park on Kiawah Island gives an out only to Charleston County, an option of not renewing every five years. But Kiawah Development Partners, the landlord, can go to court to void the lease if public use of the park drops to the point where maintaining and operating it is “clearly unreasonable, taking into consideration the value of the land and its potential for other uses.”

The value of the land, already high, would climb if KDP builds its planned 50-home development on nearby Capt. Sam’s Spit. An easement for the access road runs through the park parking lot, and any road run would impact parking one way or another.

Capt. Sam’s is a wildlife-rich, 150-acre spit that is a singular piece of disappearing natural coast, and no small part of the appeal of the park. The only public land access to the spit beach on this private resort island is by walking down from the park beach.

Environmentalists and community groups have fought for two years to stop the development. The plan won a permit go-ahead this month, and that raised concern for the road’s impact on the prized park.

No one can say yet what effect the changes might have on the popularity of the park, annually one of the top-rated beaches in the country and one of only two sizable beach parks now open in the Charleston area.

No decisions have been made about what happens to parking or the park when road construction starts.

The park was leased to the county in 1976 by a previous development company as a concession to win approval of its plan, a lease inherited by KDP. It’s been a boon and a bother for the otherwise private, gated golf and beach resort.

It is a national advertisement, but the only island destination that doesn’t require a gate pass. It’s virtually in the way of the Capt. Sam’s Spit development.

So far there’s hasn’t been any discussion, much less bargaining, over Beachwalker with regard to the road or development.

Mike Touhill, KDP public relations director, called the possibility of voiding the contract far-fetched.

“It’s a scenario that never crossed our minds,” he said. The company has a great relationship with the park commission, he said. “We don’t plan on voiding it at any time.”

Tom O’Rourke, the county Park and Recreation Commission director, said, “Honestly, we haven’t looked at (the lease) because I don’t think there’s a lot of bargaining that will be going on.”

Parking at Beachwalker already has become an issue for the island. After the Folly Beach County Park was closed in 2012 to erosion, the summertime lines of idling cars waiting for spots at Beachwalker backed up traffic along a road that also leads to resort and residential properties.

Waiting park-goers let their children out of cars to play in the street.

The town called for a no-idling rule to turn away cars, although officials instead worked with commission leaders to provide some overflow parking.

The park lease doesn’t grant any property to the county. It provides for 150 parking spaces and beach access. While it does specify the location, there is no constraint against KDP moving or re-positioning the park, and the company has adjacent open land that could be used for that.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.