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Pawleys Island: Opposition scuttles legislation to restore town’s golf cart ban

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

State Rep. Stephen Goldfinch said this week he would withdraw the measure he introduced last week to allow the town of Pawleys Island to restore its ban on golf carts after receiving an outpouring of opposition.

The town has prohibited golf carts by ordinance since 2000, but a change in state law last year restricted the ability of local government to regulate the vehicles. The change extended the limit on golf carts from 2 to 4 miles from the owner’s home and allowed people who live in gated communities to measure that distance from the community entrance.

The town learned about the impact of the new law on its ordinance earlier this month when Matt Lowenbach, who lives off the South Causeway, went for a drive in his E-Z-Go with his license, registration and a copy of the law. He said he learned about the change in state law from a friend.

“Nobody would have had any idea,” he said.

The Town Council met with its attorney, but took no action. However, Mayor Bill Otis contacted Goldfinch and state Sen. Ray Cleary about restoring the ability of local government to restrict golf carts.

“My first response was, that makes a lot of sense,” said Goldfinch, who offered an amendment last week to a bill already in committee. “I had no idea there would be such outrage.”

He said he received more e-mails and phone calls about golf carts than he did about the Medicaid expansion that the House debated this year.

“It’s not just the random person who owns a golf cart,” he added. Residents, business owners and other lawmakers all told him the local restrictions are a bad idea.

He said he would table his amendment Wednesday.

Although Goldfinch said the town should have the ability to control its streets, the roads on Pawleys Island are maintained by the state. “They’re state roads, but the town gets the ability to restrict” golf carts, he said.

“The problem here lies in that the people on the mainland don’t have a voice in the town,” Goldfinch said. “They pay the same taxes. They should have the same right to access.”

That bill that Goldfinch sought to amend would add a penalty to the existing law for violations and would allow golf carts that have headlights and taillights to operate at night.

The law gives local government the ability to restrict the range of golf carts from 4 miles to 2 miles. Carts must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles and be insured. Drivers must be at least 16 and have a valid driver’s license.

The carts can only be operated on roads where the speed limit is 35 mph or lower. They are allowed to cross roads with higher speed limits.

The town of Pawleys Island says the golf cart ban was intended to make the streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists by reducing congestion. “Both the past and the present police chief consider that a real safety issue,” Mayor Bill Otis said. “I hope and pray nobody will get hurt.”

“My biggest question is, if it’s for safety, show us some data,” Lowenbach said. “I’m not disputing what they’re saying. I just want to see the data.”

He agrees with the other provisions in the law. “If you’re not driving it properly, you should be fined,” he said.

Lowenbach was among those who sent a message of opposition to Goldfinch. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” he said.

But he was hardly alone. Goldfinch said lawmakers from Beaufort and Charleston counties were among those who told him their constituents also had objections to letting local government restrict golf carts.

“The people of the state want the ability to drive their golf carts,” Goldfinch said.

Otis hasn’t heard from other municipalities, but said “I think some cities will be shocked to learn golf carts can be driven on their streets.”

Lowenbach usually goes to the beach at the popular First Street access north of Pawleys Pier. Last summer, he drove his Dodge extended-cab pickup truck. “I’m thinking this will be easier to park,” he said of his golf cart.

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