A group of about 300 Charleston area residents filed suit against Isle of Palms on Tuesday, seeking an injunction to block the barrier island’s July 15 decision to temporarily prohibit non-residents from using 763 parking spots near the popular beach.
The sweeping changes, which left just 10 free parking spots on the island for non-residents, violate state law, according to the lawsuit; specifically, the South Carolina Beachfront Management Act and the Coastal Tidelands and Wetlands Act, which require municipalities to provide and maintain public beach access.
The lawsuit also alleges that the City Council meeting where the parking restrictions were approved violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act because “the published agenda says nothing about a proposed parking ban” but rather listed a proposed ordinance to regulate beach chairs and umbrellas.
The City Council action restricted non-resident public parking on the island to a several-block area in the commercial district, as well as a small, free parking lot near Breach Inlet. Officials said the restrictions were aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Negative public reaction from beach-goers, including many of the more than 90,000 people who live in neighboring Mount Pleasant, was swift. A Facebook group called Charleston Area Public Beach Access and Parking Group was formed and quickly gained 5,600 members, and the lawsuit filed Tuesday names that group as the plaintiff.
People flocked to the beach at Isle of Palms on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. That evening, Isle of Palms City Council decided to temporarily prevent non-resident from using 763 of the island’s parking spots, including all but 10 of the free parking spaces. File/Brad Nettles/Staff
Brad Nettles/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Before the lawsuit was filed, the group’s lawyer, Thomas Goldstein, contacted Isle of Palms Administrator Desiree Fragoso seeking to negotiate a compromise, without success, according to a post by the Facebook group’s administrator, Lee Rowland.
“No one wishes to interfere with or subvert the city’s efforts to control the spread of a serious, highly contagious infection (coronavirus), but there are simpler, more effective, narrowly tailored programs for promoting this goal,” said Goldstein’s letter to Fragoso, also posted on the group’s Facebook page.
A GoFundMe page set up to create a legal fund for the group has so far raised $17,850 from more than 300 donors. The lawsuit demands that Isle of Palms pay for the legal expenses.
When contacted by The Post and Courier, Fragoso said the city received a copy of the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon but was still reviewing it and would have no comment.
Goldstein also declined to comment, saying that the lawsuit speaks for itself.
In addition to challenging the parking restrictions, the suit claims the city’s increase in parking fines — to $100 for parking in a formerly free area that’s now reserved for residents only — is excessive and violates the South Carolina Constitution.
Some island residents are among those who have objected to the parking restrictions, including Robert Johnston, who complained to the state Attorney General in mid-July.
“It’s fundamentally un-American, and it has nothing to do with (COVID-19),” Johnston told The Post and Courier last week. “How does raising the parking fee stop COVID?”
The lawsuit challenges only Isle of Palms’ parking restrictions. Folly Beach also temporarily eliminated most free beach parking in July and raised parking fines, but there were no known legal challenges to that town’s actions as of Tuesday.
The roughly 300 plaintiffs in the Isle of Palms lawsuit include residents as well as non-residents, according to the filing. If successful, the lawsuit would return parking rules on Isle of Palms to the way they were prior to the July 15 City Council vote.
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Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.