THIS WEEK'S TOP STORIES
Pawleys Island rejects parking permits and alcohol ban
By Charles Swenson
Bob Wilkes and his wife were on the porch on a Tuesday afternoon in April when a teenager walked up from the beach and urinated against his walkway. When he told the man to stop, the man waved and exposed himself to the couple.
“It was not a pretty sight,” Wilkes told a town hall meeting of Pawleys Island Town Council last week. “You can’t imagine what we go through.”
Police Chief Mike Fanning found the culprit, an 18-year-old mainland resident, and made a point of handcuffing the teen in front of his friends. The teen was charged with disorderly conduct. He could have been charged with indecent exposure, Fanning said, which could have led to the teen having to register as a sex offender.
Concerns about parking, traffic and bad behavior on the beach prompted suggestions that the town consider a system of parking permits to help make beachgoers more accountable and makes the streets safer for pedestrians. “Sooner or later something bad is going to happen,” Henry Thomas, an Atlantic Avenue resident, said.
“It’s a public beach, we all understand that,” Wilkes said. “There’s got to be trade-off” between access and respect for private property.
Police have focused attention on the island’s north end after receiving complaints last summer. This year, they’ve made two arrests. The one at the Wilkes house and another in May on the beach near Pawleys Pier where another mainland resident, also 18, was arrested as a minor in possession of beer and as a “pedestrian under the influence.”
Parking permits would be more than the town’s two full-time employees could handle, Mayor Bill Otis said. And he ruled out a call to prohibit drinking alcohol on the beach. That has been discussed in the past. “Being able to drink a beer on the beach is Pawleys Island,” he said.
The town has five full-time police officers. Jimmy Braswell, another north end resident, suggested putting more of those officers on the north end. Fanning said that would limit patrols elsewhere on the island.
“What you’re seeing is what we can do without looking at other ways to raise money,” Otis said. The town has no municipal property tax. Most of its revenue comes from state and local taxes on short-term rentals. “There are a lot of things we are trying to do to manage this,” Otis said.
Although the police are few, so are the perpetrators, Fanning said. “This is not epidemic chaos on the beach,” he said. “This is a handful of people.”
Otis said the town will consider funding overtime for officers on holiday weekends and look at ways to shift police schedules to make sure the north end of the island is covered. He urged property owners, 30 of whom attended the meeting, to call police when they see something wrong.
The concerns show the struggle that the town has trying to keep “Pawleys as it was,” Otis said.
Sam Harrelson, an Atlantic Avenue resident, said one way to do that would be to relax the town’s leash law in the off-season. “I remember when we could go out there early in the morning and nobody bother us,” he said. Now the town requires dogs to be on a leash whenever they are off their owners’ property.
But Harrelson hoped the town would be able to crack down on flounder gigging. “They wake me up every night,” he said.
The state legislature passed a ban on gigging in Pawleys Creek in 2010 to allow the Department of Natural Resources to study the flounder population. The ban ended in 2014. Otis said he hopes to get the legislature to adopt another ban in the coming session.
Break-ins down, but golf carts and dogs draw complaints at Litchfield Beaches
By Charles Swenson
The number of house break-ins in the Litchfield Beaches dropped from 29 to six this winter, a reduction that police and residents say is due to the installation of video cameras at the three roads leading into the neighborhoods.
“The cameras are well worth the investment,” Lt. Jim Edwards, supervisor at the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office in Litchfield said. “People know they are out there.”
The Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association paid for the cameras and funds a company in Columbia to retrieve data for the sheriff’s office. Edwards told the association’s annual meeting over the weekend that he used video in one case last fall and is getting footage for another case. “I wish the other communities would do that,” he said.
The association got cameras after they proved successful in curbing winter break-ins at empty beach houses on Pawleys Island. The town has both video cameras and license plate readers.
“The cameras’ most valuable thing is deterrence,” said Ladd Dezendorf, president of the Litchfield Beaches POA. “People should have their own personal security camera.”
The advantage to that, he said, is that if there is a break-in at a rental property it will help narrow the time frame so police can review the video from the community cameras.
While break-ins were down, Edwards said the number of citations issued by deputies in Litchfield Beach and North Litchfield was steady. There were about 160 citations for parking, speeding, violations of the county beach ordinance and golf carts. Property owners said there are still plenty of violations that are missed.
“Everybody comes and lets their dogs run wild,” said Virginia Skinner, a Litchfield Beach summer resident. “They come up from Pawleys Island and use our beaches.”
While the town requires dogs to be on a leash when off the owner’s property, the county ordinance allows dogs on the beach to be under the owner’s voice command from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. if they aren’t causing a nuisance.
“We have written a lot of dog tickets,” Edwards said. “It’s one of our biggest complaints.”
County Council Member John Thomas, a North Litchfield resident, said the state law requires dogs to be leashed when off the owner’s property. The county needs to update the ordinance, he said.
Vying with dogs as a source of concern are golf carts, particularly ones driven by children. “We get calls about that all the time,” Edwards said.
Tom Sawyer, a North Litchfield resident, said at night “it’s just like Disney World” with kids and golf carts.
He also questioned why North Litchfield doesn’t have signs restricting roadside parking around intersections. “You can’t see to make a left turn,” he said. And he added, “all the people that come and do the parking don’t live here.”
But locals do get tickets. Vin Pettreccia, an association board member who lives at North Litchfield, said his wife got a $50 parking ticket near a beach access because her car tires were on the pavement. He said there need to be signs to explain the parking rules.
“You’re not supposed to park on the roadway,” Edwards said. “I know over the years it’s been lax, but we’re getting more and more people.”
The next wave of citations is likely to be for fireworks. Although the county can’t restrict fireworks, owners can declare their property a “fireworks prohibited zone” and ask the county to extend that designation to adjacent public property. There are now 32 beachfront lots at North Litchfield designated as fireworks-free and three at Litchfield Beach, Thomas said.
Those addresses are in the computerized dispatch system at the sheriff’s office. “I think this year we’re really going to be popping some people,” Edwards said. “If we keep on, it might be totally banned.”
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