By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
Camelot rarely saw weather as nice as Kiawah did on March 15, 2016, and the Kiawah Conservancy seldom gets the sort of surprise it received during its annual meeting on that same day. Representatives of the Kiawah Property Owners Group met the Kiawah Conservancy board at The Sandcastle with a donation of $46,521.28. KPOG President Marilyn Larach and a small contingent of the group were present for the robust gesture in support of all things Kiawah.
“As president, I am charged with overseeing the plan of dissolution that was adopted by KPOG’s members on February 22, 2014. As part of that plan, the KPOG Board voted to donate its remaining assets to an eleemosynary [501(c)(3)] organization whose mission is focused on Kiawah Island. Our hope is KPOG’s contribution will be used for a single, meaningful project with a tangible, lasting imprint directly here on the island. We wish Kiawah Conservancy much success in its efforts to preserve and enhance Kiawah Island’s natural habitats,” concluded Larach.
Conservancy Chairman Kevin Cox accepted the contribution with startled and effusive appreciation, agreeing to consult with the donors on exactly how the funds would be applied. Fox’s statement ended the public portion of the meeting.
The donation represented the last money in KPOG’s coffers, and as the contingent filed out, the door closed on 33 years of organized citizen activism.
KPOG was originally known as the Home Owners Group and its role as an advocacy group saw its genesis in 1981. The Kiawah Island Community Association board was entirely populated by representatives of the developer (the Kuwaitis). KICA annual assessments (then as now), were capped at a 5 percent annual increase. However, the board at the time, moved for a covenant change which would have allowed a 10 percent increase and HOG was born of this cause célèbre.
The name of the organization changed over the years to reflect demographic evolution across the island. The Home Owners Group and its ungainly acronym gave way to Kiawah Residents Group several years later. Finally, in 1992, the group became The Kiawah Property Owners Group reflecting its non-resident members as well as full-time residents. Its initial purpose, “To generate community interest in, stimulate conversation about, and provide analysis of important issues,” never wavered. KPOG’s strategy to achieve the lofty goal required a lot of work and communication.
Members of KPOG took “civic responsibility” quite seriously and attended virtually every meeting of every organization in the Lowcountry with potential impact on Kiawah residents.
Information gleaned was written up and disseminated by means of its publication, Kiawah Island Talk. Membership has its privileges and supporters received 237 copies of Talk (337 if you include Talk’s predecessor; Overview). Each issue summarized recent events, announced social events sponsored by sister organizations like Property Owner Parties, charitable organizations like Sea Island Habitat for Humanity, and keep residents current. Augmenting this effort at open communication was the KPOG Directory.
What began as a listing of names, phone numbers and addresses about the size of a pamphlet, grew to the size of a novel.
Information in the directory eventually included email addresses, Kiawah address, primary address, tertiary addresses and as many phone numbers as participants cared to include. The directory quickly evolved into the definitive guide and was available to all residents regardless of membership in KPOG. Residents had what they needed to contact and communicate with friends and neighbors on Kiawah and participation was consistently elevated.
The resulting network of engaged citizens made a difference on other fronts as well.
Notable KPOG initiatives over the years, summarized from the last ever issue of Talk (February 2014) include:
• Spearheaded a three-year effort culminating in a successful 1988 referendum to incorporate the Town of Kiawah Island and protect Kiawah from the City of Charleston’s aggressive annexation policy.
• Loaned TOKI funds to get the town up and running.
• Formed the first POPS committee in 1986 and Kiawah has been partying ever since, including groups like Book Club, Garden Club and the Naturalist Group.
• KPOG’s Bohicket Road Committee, worked with residents of Seabrook and Johns Islands, to add a turn lane from Bohicket onto Edenvale Road and for the redesign of the Bohicket Road/ River Road intersection in 1988.
• Published “Who Does What for Whom on Kiawah?” in the August 1991 issue of Talk, which subsequently formed the foundation of KICA’s “The Maze of K’s.”
• Worked with KICA’s board of directors during negotiations for the initial (1994) Development Agreement between the town and developer, to negotiate benefits for the Association. These benefits included earlier transition of the KICA Board to property owner control.
• Initiated the “Gang of Five,” which met quarterly and also involved representatives from KICA, TOKI, the resort and the developer. Its purpose was to discuss and resolve island issues, and tone down rhetoric.
• Led the effort to replace black lettered street signs with the reflective white paint printed on a black background currently in use. The increased legibility of signage has been particularly important for firefighters, police and EMS.
• Participated in development of the Welcome to Kiawah web Portal, an electronic gateway to the island and its entities.
• Developed a detailed “Who Gets What” analysis of the draft 2005 development agreement and distributed it to all property owners. This resulted in more than 500 postcards and e-mails to TOKI.
• Worked to keep the existing boat storage available on Kiawah when the developer canceled its agreement with KICA, eliminating the necessity of purchasing additional land.
• Filed to intervene against rate increases sought by the developer owned Kiawah Island Utility in 1985, 1992, 1996, 1998, 2001, and 2011, saving Kiawah property owners millions of dollars.
• KPOG partnered with the Inlet Cove Club Homeowners Association in 2013 as intervenors in support of KICA against a lawsuit filed by the developer. The developer sought return of a 4.62 acre parcel adjacent to Beachwalker Park. The developer claimed the property was mistakenly deeded to KICA in 1995.
• Six of eight Kiawah mayors have served on the KPOG Board or one of its committees.
• Thirteen former KPOG Board members have served as members of Town Council.
• Nine KPOG Board and committee members have served on the KICA Board.
• Two KPOG Board members have served on the four-member Non-Resident Owners Action Committee, which was formed to contest the discriminatory 15 percent real estate property tax cap, short term rental restrictions, and to elect non-residents to the KICA Board.
The long list of KPOG contributions illustrates a continued impact on Kiawah but also represents a heavy lift. Leadership positions can be difficult to keep filled.
Many of Kiawah’s organizations are struggling with the problem of vacant positions. Lack of volunteers has cost many of the island’s organizations and likely contributed to KPOG’s departure.
There are still some legal hoops to clear before the dissolution of KPOG is complete but many former members still take “civic responsibility” as seriously as ever. KPOG may have rattled some cages during the past 33 years but they continue searching the details for the devil inside, always assuming more communication is better than less. KPOG’s final public act illustrates, even at the end, its focus on and support of all things Kiawah.