Jan 12 2022

2021 Year In Review: Kiawah Island

By Theresa Stratford for The Island Connection

As tourism increased on the Sea Islands in 2021 and future plans for development took shape, this past year was busy, yet successful. As they eased out of COVID, both towns experienced significant change. 

The following is a compilation of news stories that greatly impacted Kiawah island over the past year.

KDP sought permits to develop Captain Sam’s Spit 

The South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments for the fifth time on March 23 from several environmental groups, lawyers for Kiawah Development Partners and state officials about the future of Captain Sam’s Spit, a unique piece of land on Kiawah Island that is being eyed for the construction of 50 homes. What was on the table this time? It was about the permitting that KDP is seeking from DHEC for infrastructure on the land. The permits would be for a steel seawall, stormwater management, utility lines and a road – infrastructure dire to supporting the homes slated for this 150-acre tear-dropped shaped isthmus. 

Kiawah Island donated COVID fine money to charity 

Consensus was reached among the Kiawah Island Town Council in their regular Town Council Meeting on April 6 to use the town’s portion of fines collected through violations of the emergency ordinance regarding COVID restrictions to donate to a nonprofit that impacts the hospitality industry. 

After sending the state their assessment portion of the fines, the Town had $5,800 left over. 

Although the clause to donate the Town’s portion of the money to a nonprofit impacting hospitality was put in place early on in the pandemic, they hadn’t specified which nonprofit. Based on Council Member Scott Parker’s suggestion, the Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic was unanimously chosen as the recipient of the donation. 

Golfers used Beachwalker Park parking lot for RV Parking

 It was hands on deck – literally – as Kiawah Island prepared for the 2021 PGA Championship, which took place at The Ocean Course from May 20 to 23. Town Administrator Stephanie Monroe Tillerson updated the Kiawah Island Town Council at the Town Council meeting on May 4 of the final touches that Town staff made as they prepared for the national golf tournament.

Tillerson reminded everyone that Beachwalker Park was slated to be closed from May 15 to May 25. She said that some golfers planned on using the lot for RV parking. Beachwalker Drive was closed to traffic during this time as well.

 New town app unveiled

 Need to know the weather on Kiawah Island? There’s an app for that! Need a Kiawah Island beach map? There’s an app for that! Need directions on the island or do you need a directory of important Kiawah Island contacts? Or maybe you want to know what events the Town has scheduled? 

Well, there’s an app for all that too! The Town of Kiawah Island unveiled their Town Mobile App in mid-June. Communications Manager for the Town of Kiawah Island Stephanie Braswell presented a preview to Town Council on June 1. “The communications team has been working on this app for about two years,” she noted. 

KDP denied development pursuits once again of Captain Sam’s Spit 

For Kiawah Development Partners, it’s back to the drawing board if they still want to continue their now 12-year pursuit in the development of Captain Sam’s Spit. On June 2, the South Carolina Supreme Court denied permits that KDP so desperately needed from DHEC to construct a 2,380-foot steel wall along the neck portion that connects Kiawah to Captain Sam’s. These permits would have also allowed infrastructure like roadways, stormwater systems and utility lines. It was actually the third time the SC Supreme Court has ruled in favor of protecting Captain Sam’s Spit, a small and fragile piece of property, which many local wildlife call home, located on the southern tip of Kiawah Island. 

Education on strand feeding will continue 

Often observed off the inlet of Captain Sam’s Spit, dolphins can be seen working together in small groups to herd fish towards shore with a powerful push. They then can be seen lunging onto the shoreline to grab the fish. If you have never observed this most interesting hunting strategy by dolphins, no worries. Thanks to Kiawah Island’s Town Council they funded another year of trained educators to be set up on the beach at the inlet of Captain Sam’s Spit to talk to beach goers and visitors about strand feeding as it happens and to support the safety of the dolphins to hunt in peace. 

This means that to minimize violations of interrupting the dolphins’ strand feeding behavior, the educators will ensure that the animals are not harassed. The NOAA Fisheries hears of reports every year of people trying to illegally interact with the dolphins while they strand feed. Touching, chasing, trying to swim with the dolphins or hand feed them is in strict violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. 

Jim Jordan, wildlife biologist for the Town of Kiawah Island, reported on this initiative at the Aug. 3 Town Council Meeting. 

Sea Islands Medical Facility completed design phase

 It was October 2019 when the Medical University of South Carolina first proposed a Certificate of Need application with the state of South Carolina for a Sea Islands Emergency Department to be located on Seabrook Island Road on Johns Island. Now, almost three years later, the project has moved forward with the support of the local Johns Island, Seabrook Island and Kiawah Island communities. 

Trajectory design completion was set for the fall of 2021. Plans project an August 2022 construction start date with completion and opening set for the fall of 2023. 

Improving Beachwalker Drive pedestrian path

 Enjoying the pedestrian-friendly paths is a fond memory for anyone that has visited Kiawah Island. Keeping those paths safe, as the island’s aesthetics change over time, is a top priority for Kiawah Island Town Council. At the Town Council meeting on Sept. 7, Dillon Turner, transportation engineer and project manager for Kimley-Horn, a national planning and design consultation firm, presented his recommendations on the Beachwalker Drive Bicycle Safety Action Plan. In the past few years, the Town has made it their priority to study the pedestrian traffic and safety on Beachwalker Drive. Kimley-Horn has conducted a series of community meetings to listen to the public’s concerns and they also met with the Kiawah Island Community Association. It was at the meeting on Sept. 7, that the first step was made to open up the bidding process for the improvement project designs that Kimley-Horn recommended. 

What to do with Andell West… 

The first planning workshop was held on Sept. 8 in relation to Town Council’s approval of the first reading on the annexation of Andell West, an 82.14-acre parcel, located between Cassique and Freshfields Village. In combination with the Town Council meeting’s first reading of the plan and the planning commission’s workshop, there were about 30 constituents – some even from Johns Island and Seabrook – who gave public comments in person. Riverstone Properties, which is owned by the Goodwin family who also owns Kiawah Island Golf Resort, are leading the design and planning process for this project. 

Amendments to the noise ordinance were much needed

 It was a time to “sound off” on some amendments to the Kiawah Island noise ordinance at the Nov. 2 Town Council meeting. Because of the discussion brought up at the October meeting concerning the ordinance, Council directed Town Attorney Joe Wilson to look at the ordinance and suggest amendments. 

Wilson admitted that some of the wording is “awkward” and that he thinks making amendments will address some of the expressed concerns. 

Kiawah Island supported no-wake zone request 

It was another win for the dolphins at the Dec. 7 Kiawah Island Town Council Meeting when the Town Council unanimously supported a recommendation to DNR by Lauren Rust, executive director for the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network, to enforce a no-wake zone through Captain Sam’s Inlet. This recommendation came directly from the Town’s environmental committee as a request to support. 

The reason she recommended that boats no longer come through the inlet above idle speed is because of the disruption it causes to the behavior of the dolphins that live there. 

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