By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Senior Staff Writer
The Seabrook Island council chambers were as full as ever at the Seabrook Island town Council meeting in July. Mayor Ron Ciancio opened by thanking everyone for their attendance. He confirmed compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, and approved three sets of meeting minutes before shifting to his financial report.
“Net assets of the town as of June 30 are approximately $4.9 million. This is approximately $.5 million more than at this time last year, and a million more than 2 years ago. So the town has been doing quite well,” said the mayor. However, June was not Seabrook’s best month ever. Revenues of $154,000 were under budget by a little over $35,000 owing to an unexpected dip in applications for class 7&8 business licenses, though the town remains in the black for the year to date. Expenses were also $40,000 higher than charted, but the mayor reminded the room this sort of spike was expected as SITC begins to incur expenses for repairs along Seabrook Island Rd.
Councilmember John Gregg began his segment saying the ad hoc committee formed to review the “Employee Information Packet” a.k.a. employee handbook, has received feedback from legal counsel. The group will incorporate suggestions Gregg expects will bring them in line with regional standards and legal requirements. He then mentioned the club’s long range planning committee had distributed their annual survey for consideration/responses, which will be reviewed at a future meeting.
Gregg said the Public Safety Committee received “unsolicited” links and suggested content through the town’s website… for inclusion on the town’s website. The content was reviewed and found to duplicate existing content and/or deemed superfluous, and the decision was made to stick with the straight line clarity currently displayed on the site.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency “called” with their own amendment to the worksheet (application for funds) submitted by Seabrook. Gregg responded by asking the amendment for “preventative measures” be stripped from the application the town submitted for relief from Irma related expenses. The worksheet is back to a state of consideration by FEMA, said Gregg. Councilmember Skip Crane provided an update on the town’s emergency communications equipment. Existing equipment is being repaired or refitted, but still leaves at least two councilmembers without communications gear. He moved to approve $600 for additional equipment, which was unanimously approved.
Councilmember John Wells had a long list of items on the agenda, but pared it down by 50%. He explained saying the renewed debate on leash laws has been tabled, and a proposal from Sunburst Landscaping to eliminate ponding beside Seabrook Island Rd. has been withdrawn. The remaining items; lining drainpipes and repairing/replacing culverts is due to start in the immediate short term and finish in 121 days. He also reported that kayakers were accused of harassing strand feeding dolphins, which he suspects/ hopes is an issue of education.
The resurgent issue of unattended fishing poles topped the mayor’s report. Many thought the issue long resolved, but residents continue to site it as a safety issue. The matter was discussed again at the most recent Ways and Means Committee meeting, said the mayor, and seems to be gaining traction. He isn’t convinced the issue exists, but legislative remedies remain on the table and beach patrol has been engaged.
The mayor then acknowledged the reason for the robust attendance at this month’s town council meeting; the proposed senior housing complex. He said the 3 story, 200 unit housing complex behind Freshfields fell into Kiawah’s jurisdiction (e.g. permitting etc.), and that the land is privately owned by Kiawah Partners, who are now entering a joint venture with Big Rock Partners. BRP have experience building and administering similar facilities.
Ciancio said SITC’s only involvement will be responding to a request for a curb cut just past the traffic circle. The mayor said Big Rock shared their Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) application, which suggests a comfortable level of transparency. He added that a traffic study conducted over the Memorial Day weekend suggested infrastructure was adequate to any additional traffic burdens. That said, the mayor opened the floor to comments on the topic instead of waiting for the scheduled comment period.
The flood of comments seemed to center less on objections/support for the proposal, and more on the details.
- How will the new facility effect efforts to mitigate drainage issues?
- How will pedestrian/bike traffic be protected from cars angling across the bike path?
- Will Seabrook be able to levy impact fees?
- Could SITC deny the requested curb cut?
- Won’t the left turn from Seabrook Island Rd. pose a danger so close to the traffic circle, and so close to where cars that bypass the circle are merging from the right?
Many questions will have to be addressed as the project moves forward. These and other concerns were atop the agenda for SITC’s Planning Commission meeting to be held in early August.
The town administrator secured unanimous support for a temporary use permit needed to accommodate the Alan Fleming Senior Tennis tournament scheduled for October 2-7. He also announced SITC will be distributing a survey soliciting input from residents on changes to the town’s Comprehensive Plan. There are a lot of surveys going around Seabrook this time of year, and Joe Cronin assured attendees this is separate and apart from those efforts. He reminded them the existing plan is available at the town’s website, and can be used to frame responses/comments/ questions. He updated the crowd on beach patrol numbers, and floated the idea of using signs to guide people to the correct lane to access Seabrook with the goal of mitigating traffic backups.
The Seabrook Island Utility report was brief. Tim Morawski said SIU passed its audit with flying colors, has completed installation of a 3rd backup generator, and said a 4th was on its way.
The scheduled comment period was a busy one with so many residents in attendance. Dennis Wall inveighed on SITC not to ignore the fishing issue. “Fish can run, and take the line with them” he said. He was assured legislative solutions are on the table and council member Jeri Finke also responded saying SITC’s silence on the issue should not be confused with inaction.
Seabrook resident Paul McLaughlin asked SITC to study the possibility of getting a town sponsored/run alternative to Comcast and AT&T. “Comcast is terrible, awful… and AT&T isn’t much better. We need to do something like they do in Orangeburg,” he said.
Joanne Fagan of Seabrook expressed her concern about kayakers harassing strand feeding dolphins, and cautioned SITC/Beach Patrol to be on the lookout for people fishing in the same place as the mammals. She highlighted her presentation by saying one angler was seen shouting at his dolphin competitors, and later showed this reporter a video of the incident.
Camp St. Christopher employee Will Henry (formerly of beach patrol), asked the town administrator if he had numbers on rescues since he felt that should be the primary focus of beach patrol. The town administrator added to his previous report saying there had been 11 incidents of first aid, and 2 water rescues.
The thorny issue of renters also came up again with one resident voicing concern about the density of renters packing into condos like sardines and complicating parking, access etc. The long, ensuing discussion summed to 2 thoughts; this is a jurisdictional gray area between SITC and the community association, and that there seemed to be a ‘disconnect’ between what residents wanted and what the community association is able to enforce.
The meeting lasted an unprecedented 2:39 hours. Thorny issues were discussed and addressed in a very civil, unfettered manner, and the mayor seemed thrilled at the level of participation. He thanked everyone for their interest and participation and adjourned the meeting.
The next meeting of the Seabrook Island Town Council will be on Tuesday, August 28 at 2:30 p.m.