MOUNT PLEASANT — The town wants the state to hand over six streets in the Old Village that dead-end at the harbor to avoid a repeat of the ongoing dispute involving a Ferry Street homeowner and his neighbors.
The homeowner landscaped the end of Ferry Street next to his home overlooking Charleston Harbor after receiving a town permit for the work. Neighbors objected, and Town Council realized it had made a mistake because the street belongs to the South Carolina Department of Transportation. Now, SCDOT is considering whether to allow the landscaping to remain.
The town's request for part of the six streets is not unusual. "We remove streets all the time that local governments have an interest in," SCDOT District Administrator Robert Clark said.
Homeowner Michael Murphy asked the SCDOT for a permit to allow the landscaping to remain after learning that Town Council permit was invalid. "We have been reviewing it and looking at all the considerations," Clark said.
Because of the situation affecting Murphy, the town wants to take over McCormick, Center, McCants, Queen and Ferry streets from where they intersect with Pitt Street extending a short distance to where they dead-end at the harbor. It also has asked the SCDOT for Royall Street from where it intersects with William Street extending to where state maintenance ends at marsh on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Councilman Paul Gawrych said putting the affected portions of the streets in conservation easements will be explored after the transfer takes place. Gawrych said that council sent a letter to CDOT asking that it not grant an after-the-fact permit for the landscaping to Murphy. Council will work with Murphy to determine how best to restore the area back to a natural public street end.
"The key is that we secure all of these road endings and protect them for all of the public from here on out," he said.
The Ferry Street situation touched a nerve with Murphy's Old Village neighbors who feel he has appropriated public property for private use. Murphy has countered that he beautified an area at the end of the street that was dirt and rock, and he said that he does not deny public access to the end of the street, which looks out toward the harbor. "We're not trying to take away city property or anything else. We didn't do anything for which we didn't have a permit," he said in a recent interview.
Pitt Street resident and former Town Councilman Tom Utsey said there should have been a public hearing on Murphy's plan before council approved it. He said the many people who are upset about the situation did not know about Murphy's landscaping until after the fact.
"This is all about the discouragement of public access. Half of the street is now basically his driveway," Utsey said. He said what happened on Ferry Street creates a troubling precedent. "If they were to approve this stuff now, the ripple effect would be horrible," he said.
The Old Village streets that end at the harbor are a major part of the charm and character of the town. "They still serve as functional access as well as open spaces where anyone can stop and view spectacular vistas," he said in an e-mail.
The town already owns four Old Village roads, Hibben, Venning, Beach and King streets, where the same sort of situation could occur.
Murphy, who could not be reached for comment Friday, planted grass, built a decorative fence and installed a park bench on the property in question, which is next to his house.
Upset neighbors said the landscaping makes it look like the street is privately owned and not a public place where people can go to watch the sun set or to launch a kayak.
Murphy said people can use the area for relaxation and recreation just as before.