Group pressing to reverse Folly Beach booze ban

Metro - North end of Folly Beach looking south at the replenished beach. (Alan Hawes/Staff) 2/19/08 Buy this photo

FOLLY BEACH — It may not be last call after all.

A group seeking the return of alcohol on Folly’s oceanfront has organized with hopes of taking the issue to a city-wide referendum.

“Voices of Reason — Folly Beach” has launched a petition drive aimed at putting the issue to a vote, something that didn’t happen last year, to the disappointment of the pro-drinking side of the argument.

“People think the process was corrupt,” said Omar Colon, owner and manager of Bert’s Market on the island, an organizer of the petition drive.

Colon said it appears the anti-drinking forces did an “end-around” in pressing for the ban passed by City Council in August without a referendum, something advocates said would have better gauged public opinion.

After the defeat in council chambers, many Folly residents said they had signed a booze petition thinking a referendum would definitely be the result, not the unilateral death-blow by council.

“It’s the responsibility of government to allow people to decide,” Colon added.

Council ended Folly’s long-established permissive beach booze attitude after several high-profile events drew large police responses, including a July Fourth riot where thousands appeared for a music-charged party.

Since the prohibition took effect permanently, Mayor Tim Goodwin said the change has brought more peace to the beach, with no noticeable drop-off in tourism-related tax revenues.

“I think most of the people who live here are happy with it so far,” he said Wednesday, adding he did not support going back.

To have the issue reheard, Colon’s group needs to get the signatures of 15 percent of the island’s registered voters, or about 330 people or so, on a petition for council to consider.

Council has the option of adopting the wording as written, or sending the issue to a town-wide vote.

Officials then have up to a year to schedule such a referendum, state municipal law says, once the petition signatures are confirmed as legitimate.

The new proposal is slightly less restrictive than what Folly had prior to the blanket ban. Colon’s idea would allow drinking on the beach year-round, except from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. on summer Saturdays and Sundays from May 1 to mid-September.

Beverages also would be banned on the beach during the 24 hours of the three major summer holidays: Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day.

Pre-ban conditions of no kegs and drinks limited to plastic or paper cups also would be recognized.

Colon said the referendum is the fairest way to address the matter, considering how divisive it became. Dozens of people spoke up during council meetings in response to the debate.

Colon said he has more than 200 signatures on his petition already but needs more in case some of those are disqualified.

While drinking has been banned from the beachfront, Folly still has a permissive attitude at certain times on town streets. Alcohol in public is allowed during some of the town’s larger celebrations, such as during the recent Christmas Parade and this week’s Restaurant Week observation.

Those events, however, are cleared through pre-approved variance requests, Goodwin said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.

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