Sullivan's mayoral candidates weigh in on parking, coyotes, St. Patrick's Day

Blandford

Sullivan's Island voters go to the polls on Tuesday to elect a new mayor to fill the unexpired four-year term of the late Mike Perkis.

Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Kaynard, Town Councilman Pat O'Neil and Keith Blandford are competing to be mayor until May of 2017. If necessary, a runoff will be held on Jan. 20.

The polling place, Sunrise Presbyterian Church, will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Kaynard and O'Neil have served seven years and 14 years on Council, respectively. Blandford is a longtime island resident seeking a first term on Council.

The Post and Courier asked each candidate to respond to five questions:

Question: Is a paid parking pass system needed by next summer for Sullivan's Island?

Blandford: Absolutely not. Paid parking is treating the symptom and not the disease. I will not support requiring residents to get decals and/or pay any additional government fees.

O'Neil: I would support the right plan at the right time and, as a member of the Public Safety Committee, I have been active in our efforts to develop that plan. More and more people want to visit the beach, but the island is not getting any bigger. We must manage growing pressures from traffic, parking and congestion. A program of paid parking will at some point be a necessary component of such efforts, particularly if the Isle of Palms implements such a plan. The purpose is not to "charge visitors for the beach," but simply to recoup some of the increased costs to the town of providing public safety and other infrastructure required by growing numbers of visitors.

Kaynard: I do not want to charge people to park at the beach. I'd rather see a plan that reduces the number of cars that come to the beach.

I have discussed with the mayors of Mt. Pleasant and Isle of Palms a regional plan to reduce the number of cars coming to our beach. I suggested parking cars in Mount Pleasant with a trolley shuttle express to our beach. IOP will soon start a paid parking plan. We will then be overwhelmed with cars from IOP. Municipal, county and CARTA officials will meet in January to discuss my proposals. A paid parking plan may be necessary.

Q: Does the island have a coyote problem?

Blandford: The problem is the circus that the issue has become. Sullivan's Island is not the first community to deal with the overlap of neighborhoods and nature. Politicians and bureaucrats have used the issue to increase influence and/or get elected. A trapping program based on successful ones from other communities is all we need. Also, government should accept and embrace the fact that local residents will do what is necessary to protect their families and property.

O'Neil: We have had reports from a number of residents that they have seen or heard coyotes in various locations. A number of months ago, I photographed one in my backyard along the marsh. I support reasoned, well-informed efforts to keep this nuisance population down as far as practical. The Town will soon be consulting with the state Department of Natural Resources on how to approach this. We can all contribute to the effort by reporting any sightings to the police and by eliminating possible food sources (keeping all garbage securely contained and not leaving pet food out at night). Any threatening animals should be reported immediately.

Kaynard: Yes. Coyotes are wild animals. They are dangerous predators and will kill for food at any time. Coyotes represent a deadly threat to our beloved turtles because they eat the turtle eggs. I have advocated for a more aggressive action policy by Town Council.

I recommend that we adopt these policies - educating residents to stop feeding coyotes, displaying warning signs and reducing the coyote population by using best practices. We must provide a safe environment.

Q: Do you support closing Middle Street for the St. Patrick's Day celebration?

Blandford: Yes, but it is vitally important that the private sector act as responsible stewards of the event, including hiring private security. It is important to protect the community from unnecessary noise and other inconveniences associated with the event. This would go a long way towards showing that the commercial district is taking its partnership with the community seriously.

O'Neil: At the risk of angering the spirits of my Irish ancestors, I oppose closing Middle Street for any St. Patrick's Day party. The last two years' events brought excessively large crowds of over-consuming, badly behaved people. We cannot expect our residents to tolerate a repeat of that experience.

We welcome visitors to the island throughout the year. To last year's troublemakers, I say that Savannah is only two hours away - check it out.

Kaynard: No. I believe that last year was the only year that we closed down Middle Street for the St. Patrick's Day celebration. It was a rowdy crowd, with too much drinking and irresponsible conduct. Public safety officials had recommended closing down Middle Street for one block only to accommodate the larger crowd that was expected. The crowd was difficult to manage and created a public safety concern. In anticipation of such problems, I had previously urged Council to make St. Patrick's Day a more family-oriented event with programs for families and children. I will vote to limit this event severely in the future.

Q: Should more dining establishments be allowed on Middle Street?

Blandford: In the Soviet Union, government went so far as to tell citizens that they could not wear jeans. How far are we going to allow government to go in our lives? If someone wants to build a restaurant on the appropriately zoned lot, and they have the money, then it is their right to build what they want.

O'Neil: No. We have some wonderful eating places but the island cannot bear the added impact of more restaurants. We recently approved an ordinance that would permit a limited number of coffee shops, as these types of establishments typically cater to folks who are already on the island, rather than attracting more traffic. There are strict controls to keep the coffee shops from morphing into restaurants.

Kaynard: No. The Town has approved a prohibition on new restaurant/bars so that no new restaurant/bars can be opened in the Town's small commercial district. At the same time, Council did approve a new category of food business, a coffee shop, with limited size, food service, hours and seating, which was recommended to Town Council by the Planning Commission after a public hearing with full input from residents.

There are only three blocks in the commercial district, with limited capacity for diners and for parking for guests to the restaurants. With these limitations, Town Council has determined that no new full-service restaurants/bars will be licensed. I agree.