MOUNT PLEASANT —The Mount Pleasant Town Council voted Tuesday to support a bill requiring free and unrestricted beach parking along state highways.
The approved resolution has no force of law but shows the town’s support for legislation written by state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau.
Grooms’ legislation, pre-filed earlier this winter, clarifies that beach parking on state roads must be free unless otherwise noted by the state. Any restrictions must receive approval from the state Department of Transportation.
Last year, Isle of Palms, Folly Beach and Sullivan’s Island either increased parking rates or proposed restrictions because of traffic concerns and the fear of visitors spreading COVID-19.
Grooms said he wrote the legislation after outcry from constituents and other people about the loss of parking on Isle of Palms. The city raised rates for existing parking meters and lots last year, and temporarily prohibited nonresidents from using 763 parking spots.
The city also proposed to permanently reduce parking for nonresidents and charge for any parking that remained.
Grooms said many Charleston-area residents did not like when local municipalities tried to indirectly block access to the beaches.
At Tuesday's meeting, Myra Jones, of the Charleston Beach Foundation, said she wanted to take her grandchildren to the beach last summer but it was difficult, if not impossible, due to actions of the councils of the local barrier islands.
“These beach towns have further plans to charge for and restrict parking and access,” Jones said. “They’ve forgotten that the beach belongs to all of us.”
Jones said the foundation is supporting Grooms’ bill in order to ensure the restrictions do not happen again.
Mount Pleasant Councilman Jake Rambo said East Cooper used to be one community, and everyone was friends.
“Unfortunately, there’s been a small group of island elites that have tried to shut off our folks' access to the beach,” Rambo said. “And it’s not right.”
Rambo said instead of municipalities fighting each other, the state should step in and make it clear that beach parking belongs to everyone and should be free and accessible to the public.
Councilman Howard R. Chapman was the only person to oppose the resolution. He said he does not believe Mount Pleasant “should be telling other governments what to do.”
Grooms said he hopes to have a subcommittee named and schedule set for public hearings on the bill by the end of the week.