Folly seeks new life for public paths to beach

Folly Beach resident Carol Linville says that a new city plan would require her to remove a fence and bushes to create a public walkway to the beach next to her rental property. Leroy Burnell/Staff 10/16/2013

— The city wants to reopen more than three-dozen paths running from the back of the island to the beach that are now blocked by homeowners or heavily overgrown, officials said.

The island has 101 of the trails, called “mid-block rights of way,” but only 34 of them are being used. A dozen of the paths have obstructions such as landscaping, fences or walls. Some 35 of them are impassable because of thick growth, officials said.

City Council favors a mid-block rights of way action plan, but not everyone supports it. Carol Linville and her husband, former Mayor Bob Linville, own two rental houses on East Ashley Avenue that would be affected. At one of them, a beach path would be only six inches from a renter’s window.

“I would not want my daughter living there,” she said.

She cited problems such as beachgoers urinating in public and leaving trash in yards. “You open the door and you have no idea who will be standing there,” she said.

Typically, the paths are on publicly-owned land platted in the middle of each block. Most of the trails on beachfront streets are open, accessible and marked by signs and crosswalks. But the condition of the rights of way on the back streets varies considerably, officials said.

The mid-block rights of way have long been a part of the history of the island. They are on a 1920 plat of Folly Beach. A 1968 plat including the foot paths is on file with Charleston County, the Planning Department said.

At the Linville rental property, a fence blocks an area that the city considers part of a public mid-block right of way. Carol Linville said it was originally a utility easement. The fence has been there for 30 years, Bob Linville said.

“I will fight this thing until the cows come home. It’s just a mess,” Bob Linville said.

Six months ago, the Planning Commission and City Council endorsed an “action plan” to address the condition of the paths, but not much has happened since then. The plan aims to ensure that the beach is accessible by opening mid-block rights of way to the public. The 10-foot-wide paths would help spread parking around the island instead of concentrating it on the beachfront, officials said.

Mayor Tim Goodwin said some paths are maintained by residents, but some property owners have fencing or other obstructions where the paths would otherwise be located, he said.

“These easements have been there since the city of Folly Beach was laid-out,” he said.

He said providing public access is key to federal dollars for beach restoration. The city hopes to have a new renourshment project underway this fall. Bids have come in at about $30 million and are currently being evaluated. The federal government is picking up 85 percent of the tab, he said.

Currently, city maintenance of the paths is minimal and rare, although $7,000 was recently earmarked for the effort. That dollar amount is the estimated annual cost of path upkeep.

At public hearings on the issue, the majority of testimony supported the opening of mid-block rights of way, although comment was received on both sides of the issue, the Planning Department said.

“It’s much ado about nothing. A bunch of these rights of way are already open,” Goodwin said.