Island Vibes March 2024

6 NEWS Community survey reveals chief concerns among IOP residents By L. C. Leach III Stormwater management, beach preservation and parking and traffic management during peak tourist season were revealed as the top three challenges facing Isle of Palms in a recently completed online Community Enrichment Plan Survey. The survey, compiled in late 2023 from the input of 748 respondents, both resident and visitor, is intended for enhancing the island’s current quality of life and making improvements in necessary areas. Over the next decade, as the island becomes even more in demand by daily and seasonal vacationers, IOP city leaders say the survey will help them make changes to keep the island from being overrun by a county-wide growth boom that currently has no end in sight. “The island's tourism industry has experienced tremendous success, and residents' quality of life is a core component of a thriving visitor economy,” said Chris Campbell, vice president of strategy & external affairs with Explore Charleston in December 2023. “There's no better way to build the best IOP for tomorrow than to develop a community enrichment plan that engages residents' voices as the primary driver of the process.” The College of Charleston, Explore Charleston and Mount Pleasant consulting firm The McNair Group are working with the City of IOP toward developing a specific plan based on the survey’s findings, such as: • Vehicle Traffic 59 percent of respondents said a more creative approach is needed to handle traffic management during high visitation – which in the summer months can reach 12,000-20,000 visitors per day – and up to 60,000 in day trippers, especially for July 4 weekend. • Water Drainage 46 percent said stormwater management is the community’s most pressing environmental issue. City leaders began a longterm project in 2017 to improve stormwater and tidal drainage across the entire island. Work has progressed up to Phase 3, and includes a Master Plan for Phase 4, estimated to cost $46.3 million, to eliminate standing water in residential neighborhoods and other key areas. • Visitor Parking Especially as it concerns beachgoers, 44 percent said parking for island beachgoers needs ‘definite improvements.’ The island’s 7 miles of beaches can become so crowded at peak season that it’s sometimes hard to see the sand even from a short distance. To help encourage fewer individual vehicles, daily bus service provided by the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority is one ongoing solution. “Just the comment section of the survey alone is about 70 pages, small font,” said The McNair Group CEO David McNair, in a presentation before the city council on Jan. 23. “People have a lot to say – from where golf cart parking is, to where bike racks should be, to underground lines, and you can imagine, everything in between.” Environmental concerns mentioned in the survey included: • Beach preservation – 37 percent • Water quality and septic tank issues – 29 percent • Reducing litter – 24 percent • Sea level rise – 18 percent McNair added that while most of the findings were expected, the survey will serve as a starting point for which concerns should get precedence. “You don’t ever underplay affirmation,” McNair said before the city council. “It’s now how do we look at them in priority, and how do we get some task force members to work with the community on what else is there.” McNair suggested to council that an advisory taskforce mix of eight to 10 residents and business owners be finalized by the end of February and that listening sessions begin in March. “My hope is we will have some tangible items we can tackle very quickly,” said IOP Mayor Phillip Pounds. “And if there are specific tasks that come out of this work that improves the resident and visitor experience, that’s a win-win for all involved.” The survey showed that this ‘winwin’ is already prevalent on many other fronts. For example, more than 98 percent of respondents said IOP is a safe place to live. More than eight out of 10 said emergency response is a ‘strength for our island.’ Another 7.5 out of 10 said IOP is appropriately proactive in ensuring that ‘we protect and work to improve our community.’ Regarding property rentals, the survey opinions were almost as favorable: • 71 percent said there is a good balance of rental property on the island. • 69 percent said more enforcement is needed on current rental property rules. • 42 percent said more needs to be done in curbing rental property growth. These findings tended to further confirm the November 2023 island-wide referendum to limit short-term rentals. For all of 2023 and part of 2022, short-term rentals underwent a long back-and-forth battle between proponents who favored an island-wide STR license cap, and those preferring an ordinance that would permit a cap in areas where STRs are already low. The measure was defeated in the Nov. 7 city elections by a decisive 54.5 percent of the eligible resident vote. IOP City Council is already working to determine measures that will strengthen the island’s residential and rental balance. Of course, there are other concerns just under the survey’s radar – such as a noise ordinance that will soon be enacted in some form. But probably the most pressing concern is one for the near future: quality of life on the island. More than three in four survey respondents said, ‘Overall quality of life on the island is superb’ or ‘nice quality with a few key areas needing attention.’ Only 20 percent said this same quality is nice ‘but it’s declining, and I’m concerned.’ Acting now on the elements and input of the survey’s findings will help keep that 20 percent from growing any larger. While Isle of Palms continues to change with the times as necessary, it can always remain the same seaside resort it started as in 1897. “Communities across the Lowcountry are now inextricably connected,” said McNair in December 2023, when the survey results were still pending. “Most of us live, work and recreate across multiple community lines, and each is charged with responsible stewardship that ensures a vibrant and sustainable foundation for today and for those generations to come.”