Hicks: Folly Beach is on edge as the battle for her soul continues | Remark
For people who really love Folly Beach, February 8 can’t come soon enough.
One way or another, it will be over by then.
You see, on February 7, residents of Folly vote in a referendum, following a citizens’ petition, to limit short-term rentals. Because the city council couldn’t – or didn’t want to.
Investors are pushing house prices out of reach, even for wealthy families, and as such Folly becomes a passenger island.
Lots of places are going through the same thing – Isle of Palms is grappling with this as we speak. But the elders aren’t being hyperbolic when they say this is truly a battle for the soul of Folly Beach.
There are 1,125 homes on the island licensed as rental properties – and that’s 43% of Folly Beach residences. It’s hard to be a community when almost half of your population spins every week.
The ballot question, if approved, would limit those licenses to 800. That’s still a lot, but it’s a compromise — about the best one could hope for. Because, the truth is, rental homes have been part of the fabric of Folly for decades.
The fight turned nasty, turning neighbor against neighbor. Opponents say a short-term rental limit would prevent residents from passing assets to their heirs. Which isn’t true – they just couldn’t pass on a license.
They say this will deter sales, as some people have to rent out their second home to afford it. Well, they could rent them – they would just have to wait in line to get a license. Which is a first world problem if there ever was one.
Opponents say it would make owning the island cheaper, which may be true…to a point. It could be the difference between a Folly home sold to a James Island couple for $950,000 or a Boston hedge fund for $1.1 million.
A family that wants to retire to the beach would always be outbid by multinational hedge fund investors.
These opponents claim that this would deprive people of their property rights, and that is dangerous. You know how some people get these days when you invoke “freedom.”
Either way, it’s bullshit.
The government has always limited the “freedom” of the owner. But just as important, it limits your neighbors. This is called zoning. How many of these people fighting for their constitutional right to an Airbnb would shut up if someone opened a junkyard next door? How about a petting zoo?
Which, by the way, is kind of what short-term rentals sometimes become.
Everyone should care. Although Folly is a town in its own right, it has always been part of Charleston, as important as The Battery or Marion Square. Generations of Lowcountry folks grew up surfing the Washout, fucking on the pier, and kicking chills at the Sand Dollar…or the sand.
Back when it was legal.
The time was when you couldn’t walk into Bert’s Market without seeing someone you knew. Folly is where people would go to relax, wade in the waves or laze on the beach on Saturday afternoons when the skies are golden and the ocean takes on the most stunning shade of blue.
Sadly, many of us don’t go there anymore. Too many people, too many tourists, the traffic on Folly Road unbearable. Everything changes, that’s a fact. But we don’t have to help her – 43% rental properties. Good grief.
Some elders are full of hope. The petition has been signed by almost 500 Folly voters – read: full-time residents – and it’s rare for more than 800 to vote in an island election. And some of the opponents can’t vote because, well, they don’t. really to live.
Even if the limit passes, the pressure will not stop. Already, some state lawmakers — the same ones who complain about federal tyranny — want to strip local communities of their right to regulate short-term rentals.
Talk about taking away freedom.
And short-term rentals were here to stay even before the pandemic made working from home a thing. Our real estate prices, no matter how high, still look like a bargain for people in New York or Connecticut. So, how are you.
It happens in almost every beautiful place – people love it to death. But the elders are fighting, and it’s a fight worth fighting for.
Because it’s ultimately about whether Folly Beach is going to stay the edge of America, or become just another piece of the American business.
We will find out on February 8.