P&C Editorial: Back Folly beachfront regulations to help guard against erosion

By the time Folly Beach codifies a set of beach- and marshfront regulations meant to bring development on the long-exempt island roughly in line with state law, it will have been almost a year since the Edge of America declared what was to be a six-month building moratorium.

A rising tide waits for no one, but as City Administrator Spencer Wetmore sees it, the pause will have been worth it.

“I think we’ve probably done a little more than a lot of our neighbors,” she says, referring to a nine-ordinance package put together since June. “We’ve been given this beautiful beach, and we need to take that responsibility (for preserving it) seriously.”

She’s right, of course. And City Council should approve the complete package. The plan covers not only the just-renourished beachfront, but the entire island including the marshes and the marsh islands. All new homes would have to be built at least a foot higher than now required.

Ms. Wetmore says the city has to base its land-use policy on reality, “not renourishment.” Climate change is real and “it would be irresponsible not to plan for that.” Again, she’s right.

In November, the owner of one “super-beachfront” lot donated his underwater property to the city, helping to help clear up the thorny issue of what to do about one of 17 such lots. The new regulations would rightly render them unbuildable.

New ordinances would more tightly regulate septic tanks to keep pollution out of the water, keep the dune system intact and restrict seawalls. Others would regulate marshfront developments, dock lighting along the Folly River and the development of marsh islands.

City Planner Aaron Pope said the city recently sent out a “state of the city” mailer to every resident about what to expect in the coming months. A Jan. 7 Planning Commission hearing would be the last best chance to get up to speed on beachfront management plans before the proposals are handed up to City Council, which will start the next day considering proposals related to dune management, marsh setbacks, docks and marsh island developments including one that would rezone Bowens Island.

So far, there’s been little pushback from homeowners or developers, and there shouldn’t be. All of the new regulations are on par with requirements elsewhere. Furthermore, Folly also would set a good example as the first sea island to have a marshfront management plan. Significantly, the new regulations should help improve the city’s flood rating and lower insurance rates.

Ms. Wetmore says the package is a “once-in-generation” chance to put into place a “progressive” management plan that strikes a fair balance between preservation and responsible development.

The extended moratorium is now set to expire in mid-February, and City Council is expected to start adopting the new ordinances from March through April.

Emily Cedzo of the Coastal Conservation League said her organization agrees with the direction the city is headed, and that the 40-foot dune management area proposed went above and beyond some state regulations. Some issues could lead to litigation – for example, a septic tank permit issued by the Department of Health and Environmental Control for a super-beachfront lot and regulations aimed at stopping super-beachfront developments – but she said most residents and groups such as Save Folly Beach support the city’s efforts. As they should.

Keeping houses off the beach and dunes, and keeping sewage out of the surf, isn’t too much to ask.

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