The Beaufort TEA Party hopes to spark debate by asking local business owners if they've faced difficulties setting up shop.
During the next several weeks, organizers will distribute paper and online copies of a survey intended to gauge the barriers to operating a business in Beaufort County. TEA Party member Jim Pennell said the group hopes to publish its data before April and discuss the results with elected officials.
The poll is being written and created by TEA Party members, Pennell said.
"We can't guarantee that the survey is going to be a scientific survey," he said, "but I think it'll be a little bit better than the anecdotes you hear at the barbershop."
Pennell said the idea followed comments made at the group's last meeting.
"Some of the people were local business people, and they expressed kind of a frustration in dealing with the business climate here in Beaufort," he said.
TEA Party member Ann Ubelis said complaints included difficulty getting approval for signs or building plans, "to the point where council is debating over what color swatch" to use.
A few business battles have made headlines. A new Olive Garden in the Tanger Outlet Center 1 in greater Bluffton has been held up because of debate over a proposed stone facade. A Family Dollar store on St. Helena Island spent years navigating a series of zoning and design hurdles.
Defenders of the review process say strict standards help maintain the Lowcountry's distinctiveness, and Pennell said the group isn't prejudging poll results.
"It may turn out that we do the survey and find out that there's no problem at all," he said. "That would be great."
But as the county contemplates buying a commerce park for $2.5 million -- a project TEA Party members have opposed -- Pennell said the survey could illuminate cheaper and more efficient ways to spur business.
"Maybe we've got some people here already who could expand their businesses and start more economic activity," he said, "if we are more enlightened about how we enact regulations and how we enforce regulations."
Ubelis said the survey's goal is to jump-start the conversation, adding that business owners told her they're reluctant to publicly make waves about their grievances.
"They felt that they in turn would be either penalized or intimidated," Ubelis said. "Once this is done, let's see if we can get an open town hall where people can now feel free to step forward and say, 'Listen, this is my experience.' "