P&C Editorial: Folly has good plan to protect beach

Since declaring a six-month moratorium on waterfront developments in June, Folly Beach has come a long way toward what could become one of the state’s most forward-looking policies for regulating development and preserving beaches and marshes.

The timing is right. Folly’s City Council is expected to vote on a final set of recommendations in November, about the time beach renourishment wraps up and the moratorium expires.

Residents and council members should embrace the proposed changes meant to keep new construction off the beach and out of harm’s way.

A package of draft ordinances covers “super-beachfront” lots, septic tanks, dune protection, seawalls, marshfront developments and the future development of marsh islands, among other issues.

The Edge of America has long been exempted from important parts of state beachfront management law due to the Charleston Harbor jetties blocking the flow of sand that would normally accrete on Folly. That left the city with a mishmash of sometimes competing regulations and legal struggles over such things as super-beachfront lots, properties platted years ago and again becoming technically buildable due to renourishment.

Instead of trying to manage beachfront development from a single line of dunes, the planning staff wants to set up a “dune management area” at least 20 feet wide, compared to current setbacks of as little as 5-10 feet. No above-ground structures would be allowed seaward of the dune area. Only sand fencing, plantings, walkovers and seawalls would be allowed. Seawalls would have to be buried, filled to match the existing beach and planted with native shrubs or grasses. That’s the right approach.

Another ordinance would require the removal of any structure undercut by beach erosion and apply to new building permits. In other words, if the surf is lapping under your home, it has to go. No one wants homes obstructing the beach.

New septic tanks would have to be buried farther inland, and existing ones would be more closely monitored. In some cases, regular pump-outs would be required. Homes with overwashed septic tanks would be “shut down” until the system could be moved to higher ground.

Folly resident Matt Napier, who has followed the planning process closely, said the city was “playing catch-up” to some degree. Still, he was optimistic it was on the right path. Just one building permit was issued for a super-beachfront lot before the moratorium took effect, he said.

The marshfront plan, designed primarily to guard against sea level rise, is believed to be first of its kind in the state. It would require all new homes to be built at least 2 feet above the base flood elevation, instead of the current 1 foot. That should help improve the city’s flood rating and reduce insurance costs.

Marshfront setbacks would be increased from 10 to 20 feet and have to be planted to help filter runoff. Docks and seawalls would be regulated based on new standards being developed by the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.

A set of outdoor lighting requirements would help reduce light pollution along the Folly River. There’s also a plan for phasing out any signs erected in marshes and coordinating with Charleston County for the future development of marsh islands. Those are all good ideas.

Planning Director Aaron Pope was hopeful most of the recommendations would be approved. Compared to 20 years ago, he said, residents were more receptive to proposals aimed at restricting development.

Folly’s planning staff deserves high marks for making good use of the pause to come up with a balanced plan for protecting the island from storms, sea level rise and foolhardy development. City Council should codify the entire package.

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