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Rival beach parking legislation would put towns, cities in charge of regulations

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A lifeguard watches over beach-goers at Isle of Palms County Park on July 14, 2020. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

A bill introduced in the S.C. House would put towns and cities in charge of parking along state roads — a key issue in the current battle over beach parking.

Isle of Palms has been at the center of the fight due to efforts to restrict public parking near the beach. The state Department of Transportation in February rejected the town's parking plan, and previously opposed a plan to eliminate parking spaces along the right of way of Palm Boulevard, a state highway.

If the legislation introduced March 4 by Rep. Joe Bustos, a Mount Pleasant Republican, were successful, the state would have no say in the matter.

“It should be up to the municipalities to regulate parking," Bustos said.

His district includes Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island, as well as parts of Mount Pleasant.

His House Bill 4028 is all of one sentence long, and reads: "Notwithstanding another provision of law, all rights of way within the municipal boundaries of a municipality shall belong to the municipality for management of parking."

Under current law, the state has oversight of parking along state roads. To underscore that point, Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, earlier filed legislation to clarify that beach parking along state roads is free unless the state says otherwise.

Grooms said his bill is currently on hold while DOT and Isle of Palms attempt to negotiate a compromise solution for beach parking.

Grooms said he doubts most towns and cities would want to take responsibility for rights of way along state roads, and doubts Bustos' bill will gain any traction.

“That has no chance of passage in the House, or the Senate," Grooms said.

Bustos said he assumes that Grooms' bill has no chance of passage.

"I don't think the state should be reaching down into the towns and telling them they can't have paid parking, or whatever," Bustos said. "The state shouldn't be micromanaging everything."

Isle of Palms is currently being sued by the Charleston Beach Foundation, a group that sprang up in 2020 in response to the barrier islands' attempts to restrict beach parking.

"The Charleston Beach Foundation is extremely disappointed at the actions of our local representatives Joe Bustos, Mark Smith, and Lin Bennett to introduce and support a bill that would attempt to take over state-owned property on the rights-of-way, with the objective to afford special privileges and rights to the few residents who live on our barrier islands, and in blatant disregard to the rights of the general public guaranteed by our state Constitution and law," the foundation said in a prepared statement.

Republicans Smith, Daniel Island, and Bennett, Charleston, were among co-sponsors of the legislation.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

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