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Golf carts: Town will require permit to park under draft ordinance

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Golf carts will need a town permit in order to park on public property on Pawleys Island under an ordinance approved by Town Council this week. It’s still unclear whether the town has the authority under state law to restrict golf carts, but the measure received the first of two readings while the town attorney studies the issue.

The town once banned golf carts, but a 2012 change in state law removed the ability of local government to restrict the vehicles. The permit plan is modeled on one from Folly Beach, Administrator Ryan Fabbri said. Town Council discussed the ordinance last summer, but took no action. The idea was revived after Pawleys Plantation proposed adding a golf cart access that would enable residents to reach the beach on Pawleys Island.

Mayor Bill Otis said he was reluctant to adopt a permit system that would add work for the town’s small staff, but with the potential of more golf cart traffic from Pawleys Plantation the town needs to do something.

Under the ordinance, annual golf cart permits will be issued by the police department to people who show proof of registration and insurance and who certify that they understand the state law on operations. There is a $10 fee. Under state law, golf carts can only operate within 4 miles of the owner’s address. If the owner lives in a gated community, such as Pawleys Plantation, the distance can be measured from the entrance gate. The law allows local government to limit the distance to 2 miles, which Pawleys Island has done. The law doesn’t specify whether the distance is measured by road miles or a straight line. It also doesn’t include a penalty for violations.

The town ordinance allows police to ticket or impound golf carts parked on the roadside or at public parking lots without a permit. No fine is specified.

Pawleys Plantation’s property owners association has proposed installing an unmanned gate to allow access via Rybolt Road to the South Causeway. The speed limit on the causeway is 40 mph. Golf carts are limited by state law to roads with speed limits of 35 mph or less. The association has asked the state Department of Transportation to lower the limit on the South Causeway.

“We haven’t finished the study yet,” said Michael Bethea, district traffic engineer for DOT. “I can’t remember if golf carts were mentioned.”

They were mentioned by the town of Pawleys Island, which has asked DOT to maintain the current speed limit on the South Causeway. “It does play somewhat of a factor,” Bethea said. “I’m not going to lower [the limit] just so golf carts can use it.”

DOT will consider driveways, curves, the length of the road and the speed of existing traffic in its decision, he said.

Pawleys Plantation property owners are due to vote on the golf cart access at their annual meeting next month. A proposal sent to owners says it will be limited to the carts, bicycles and pedestrians. The “side gate” will be safer than using Highway 17 and it will improve property values.

The POA board also cites real estate agents who say “prospective home buyers often bypass Pawleys Plantation in favor of other locations that offer direct beach access.”

The project has opposition within the gated community. Two of the 11 POA board members voted to drop the project before it was put up for a vote by owners. A statement opposing the access was included with the board’s packet to owners. It raises concerns about security, cost and the impact on property near the new gate. It also notes the opposition from the town and residents along Rybolt Road. “For the possible benefit of a few, do we need to subject all of us to the potential problems, adverse publicity and expenses?” the opponents ask.

If Pawleys Plantation property owners approve the project, Georgetown County planning staff have said it will require a change to the community’s “planned development” zoning. That will require a public hearing before the Planning Commission and three readings by County Council.

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