The marsh-edge boat landing and cemetery along Rantowles Creek near Hollywood look like scenes from Lowcountry postcards, and Joe Wrighten has been going there for many years to catch crabs at the landing and to visit his mother's grave.
It's a rural but fast-developing part of western Charleston County, where a clash is unfolding between the developer of the Poplar Grove subdivision and rural neighbors, who were shocked to see a gate under construction on the road leading to the boat landing and cemetery.
"Everybody is putting up a fight," said Joe Wrighten's middle-aged son, Avery, as he visited his grandmother's grave in Lowndes Cemetery Thursday. "This happened years before."
A 2008 attempt to gate the landing was attributed at the time to confusion about the ownership of the property, which is at the dividing line between Charleston and Dorchester counties. It appears, however, the disagreement six years ago just festered.
The issue has resurfaced because the next phase of the Poplar Grove development is underway on the former rice plantation, and Bulow Landing Road - the only road to the boat landing and cemetery - will also be the entrance road for those new homes.
A curb, sidewalks, and gate posts were partially installed on the road before Charleston County ordered work halted this week.
The county doesn't object to the road being paved. Work was halted for lack of engineering plans and a permit. But officials say the developer has no right to restrict access.
"We told him that he couldn't close the boat landing," said county Director of Public Works Jim Neal.
He said Bulow Landing Road is public and the county has maintained it since the 1950s, and the boat landing, though owned by the Poplar Grove developer, is public under a long-term easement. The county obtained the easement from a paper company in the 1960s, and for 17 years the boat landing has been managed by the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission.
Poplar Grove developer Vic Mills claims Bulow Landing Road is also owned by the development, and he says it is located in Dorchester County. Furthermore, he contends, Charleston County has no right to the boat landing.
"We could put a gate on it tomorrow," said Mills.
He said the county hasn't reined in illegal activities, loud parties and trash dumping at the boat landing, which is adjacent to the site of a planned community center and swimming pool for Poplar Grove.
"If they won't do anything about it, I have no choice," he said. "Charleston County says it's a public boat landing but they won't take any responsibility for it."
Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission Director Tom O'Rourke said the commission would not support access restrictions for the boat landing. He said there's tremendous demand in the county for public access to the water.
"There are 32,000 registered boaters," he said.
Charleston County Deputy Administrator Jim Armstrong said the boat landing has been public for decades and perhaps hundreds of years. He said if a gate were erected on Bulow Landing Road, "I believe we would be in a position to remove the gate, unless a judge tells us otherwise."
"If he wanted to put in street lights and surveillance cameras to minimize after-hours mischief, I don't think we would have any problem with that," Armstrong said.
Mills said public safety has been a problem, because neither Dorchester County nor Charleston County sheriff's deputies patrol there.
"These are real issues," Mills said. "We are going to do what is necessary to protect the integrity of our community."
State Rep. Robert Brown, D-Hollywood, said his phone has been ringing off the hook since the gate posts went up.
"Families love it down there," he said. "They go fishing and crabbing and put their boats in."
"We, as a community, are not going to stand by and allow a developer to close that road," Brown said. "I went down there, and I really couldn't believe he's doing this again."
Mills said he's not trying to eliminate access, but suggested limiting access to certain hours, or to people issued pass-codes.
In a June 2 letter to Charleston County Administrator Kurt Taylor, an attorney for the developer said no gates would be installed "until there have been further discussions."
Armstrong said Taylor and Mills plan to meet Tuesday.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552