During a 30-minute special meeting Thursday, April 30, Pawleys Island Town Council extended its ban on short-term rentals to May 8.

Beach access points on the island reopened at noon on Friday, May 1, in accordance with an action by Town Council on Monday.

Mayor Brian Henry noted that Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri and others have done a lot of work to get First Street access and the South End parking lot open in addition to other beach accesses.

Police Chief Mike Fanning and his officers will be on duty through the weekend and next week to ensure that people are complying with social distancing orders. He told members of Town Council that he would let them know how things go with crowds and parking over the weekend.

The meeting was held via the Zoom app, and was also streamed live on the Town’s Facebook page. A total of 996 people viewed the Facebook livestream.

Henry, Council members Sarah Zimmerman, Rocky Holliday and Ashley Carter, along with Fabbri and Fanning, all talked about safety precautions, keeping up with data from the federal Centers for Disease Control, and Henry referred to the IHME Web site for data on COVID-19. Guerry Green sent a message to Henry just prior to the meeting that he would not be able to participate.

Because of federal and state stay at home and work orders due to the worldwide pandemic, public beach accesses have been closed for weeks. This week’s decisions by local and neighboring counties and communities are allowing some reopening in many areas.

The Pawleys Island emergency ordinance modification instructs beach rental companies to not allow rentals from people in “hot spot” areas of the country. Included among places considered to be hot spots with cases of COVID-19 are New York and New Jersey. Others may also be included.

Councilman Rocky Holliday suggested that the Town advise rental companies to do three things:

1. Encourage rental companies and renters to adhere to government mandates, not renting to people from hot spots.

2. Give written instructions to renters, such as not congregate on the beach, keep social distances and other precautions. He said since people will be coming from different states, they may not know what South Carolina or local requirements are.

3. Just to encourage them to continue to conduct extra cleaning in between rentals, paying special attention to bathrooms and kitchens. He urged cleaners to use products known to “kill” the Coronavirus.

During the beginning discussion, Henry noted that Council had three options about the short-term rental ban. It could allow the ban to expire on April 30, extend it to May 15, or compromise on May 8.

“We’ve got to open up when it’s safe,” Henry said. “One additional week gives us more time to reassess.”

Council member Sarah Zimmerman said, “I think that’s the more prudent path to follow, simply because nobody knows. Waiting until the 8th gives us time to review data and react.”

Fabbri related what several coastal communities and counties are doing regarding short-term rentals. He noted that some communities also planned to meet on Thursday or Friday and things could change with them.

Several people noted that they’ve gotten many phone calls, emails and text messages about reopening or not, and extending the short-term rental ban, or not. Essentially, the members agreed, comments on these issues are split about 50-50.

“It really does strike me that people are evenly divided on this,” Holliday said. “There’s no overwhelming one view. … I asked Chief Fanning, and that’s exactly what he said.”

“One of our (S.C.) House representatives said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it … so evenly split’.” Henry said, adding that many people “are oscillating back and forth.”

Henry also noted that the Thursday meeting was the third one during the lockdown that Town Council has met virtually with the Zoom app. “We are learning as we go.”

In normal times, Council routinely includes a public comment period at the beginning of meetings but doesn’t necessarily respond to comments at the time.

Some people using the Zoom “chat” feature were asking questions and wondering why those questions weren’t being answered directly.

Henry explained the normal public comment procedures and noted that members are following their normal practice.

“Lord knows, we all get a tremendous amount of calls and texts and emails,” Henry said. “Please don’t get your feelings hurt.”

Before casting their votes which OK’d the ban 4-0, Zimmerman asked, “Will we revisit it again, will we have another meeting? Or, just wait and see what the next four or five days bring?”

“I think what we do,” Henry said, is “… move the ban back to May 8, and then either let it expire on May 8, or we meet again to extend it. Then we have a regular meeting on May 11, at which time if we decide to do something different, that’s another time we could do that.”

Members agreed, and the motion passed.