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Beach access: Litchfield landscape timbers draw complaint

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Parking for those wanting to access the beach in Litchfield is always in short supply during tourist season, but lately there have been fewer spaces than usual for beach-goers to compete for.

Landscaping timbers extending into the right-of-way in front of at least one home on Norris Drive are preventing cars from parking along that section of roadway, near the old Walkway No. 6, now labeled Walkway 65.

The situation is one that needs to be fixed and the right-of-way cleared again for public use, according to David Gleaton, whose family owns a house nearby on the creek.

But Gleaton hasn’t had much luck in getting officials to help make that happen.

“Years ago, you could park just about anywhere up and down Norris Drive and not have a problem,” Gleaton recalled. His family has been using Walkway No. 6 since they bought their house in 1982, usually driving down and parking in the right-of-way so they don’t have to haul beach chairs and other equipment as far.

“I understand the homeowners’ concerns,” he said. Those include litter left by motorists and damage to the right-of-way, such as ruts left in the shoulder.

“But there ought to be some kind of common ground — no pun intended — between the people who want to go to the beach and the people who live there. I’ve seen elderly people parking down side streets and having to walk. I guess the people in those houses don’t care.”

Gleaton believes the landscape timbers are a deliberate attempt to keep people from parking in the right-of-way, he said, and he expects another homeowner is getting ready to follow suit, taking away three more parking spots. It’s not the first attempt homeowners in the area have made attempts to stop parking in the right-of-way.

Some have tried blocking the right-of-way with trash cans, and in one case, property owners put up their own no parking signs, which the S.C. Department of Transportation quickly forced them to remove.

However, DOT doesn’t have a problem with landscaping of the right-of-way. It allows encroachment on that public land for beautification enhancements, mailboxes, newspaper boxes and such.

“People use the right-of-way for a lot of things and they’re not all legal, but we usually do not deny encroachment permits for enhancements or beautification, especially since it’s usually the property owners who maintain the right-of-way in front of their houses,” said Dennis Townsend, district engineering administrator for the department. “In this case, I don’t know if they had a permit, but if they asked for one, we would have allowed it.”

The only exception would be if there was a safety issue involved.

Additionally, if DOT opted to force removal of beautification enhancements from property on Norris Drive, it would have to do so for all roads it maintains, even though they don’t have the same issues with parking, he said.

“We try to address all secondary roads such as Norris Drive in a consistent manner. I can’t just address these two streets but have to look at the entire county,” he said.

If enhancements are blocking needed parking, that’s a local issue that needs to be taken up by the county, according to Townsend. He has recommended before that the county assume maintenance responsibility for Norris Drive, which would allow it to enforce rules pertaining to the right-of-way. He still believes that’s the right answer, he said.

But understandably, county officials aren’t keen on taking on the responsibility and its associated costs.

“I hear everything he’s saying,” County Administrator Sel Hemingway said. “I understand his position.”

But at the same time, the situation on Norris Drive is a special situation. He doesn’t have a clearcut solution to offer, but “I definitely don’t think it’s a local issue.”

The situation on Norris Drive should be handled by the state, agrees County Council Member Bob Anderson, who represents the area in question.

“We don’t control that property, it’s not ours to control and we certainly don’t want to take jurisdiction over it, because we couldn’t afford to maintain it,” he said. “My understanding is the state would love to give us all these roads and make us maintain them, but where would the money come from. They’re not going to give us any more and I don’t think anybody wants to dig into their pockets any deeper and raise property taxes to take care of all this.”

He suggested the state shouldn’t give any permits for people to encroach on the right-of-way.

Between DOT’s position and the county’s position, that leaves Gleaton with few places to turn for help. He was advised to contact state Sen. Ray Cleary, and said Cleary told him he would contact officials with DOT, but a response could take a couple of weeks. Gleaton is still waiting for more news.

“It’s really just a big mess,” Anderson said. “I understand where [Gleaton] is coming from and it’s a shame.”

He sees Cleary or one of the other members of the county’s legislative delegation as Gleaton’s best hope.

“There’s got to be some kind of resolution,” Gleaton said. “The politicians have to get involved and have some kind of meeting of the minds to come up with some kind of regulations. This is a problem for all of us non-beachfront owners who would like to enjoy the resource.”

When people can’t find parking or are ticketed because there’s so little parking and they park illegally, it’s bad for the area and its tourist-based economy, Gleaton said.

“The reason people come here is to go to the beach,” he explained. “It’s the same with retirees. They want to live here because of the beautiful beaches.”

If they don’t have access to that resource, they’ll find some place else to go and take their money with them.

“It’s just a bad deal all the way around,” Gleaton said. “I know it’s a thorny situation and some people aren’t going to be happy, but something needs to be done.”

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