ISLE OF PALMS - With temperatures climbing into the 70s of late, Santa may be thinking of landing the sleigh here for some rest and relaxation before his big day.
Finding a parking place is not likely to be a problem. In the summer, though, it's another story altogether as thousands of day-trippers flood to the island.
"This past Memorial Day was a complete disaster. It was just a taste of things to come," said City Councilman Jimmy Carroll.
On that day there were reports of massive gridlock. Long-time residents said it was the worst traffic jam they had ever seen. Beautiful weather, a long holiday weekend and the launch of Spoleto Festival USA were cited as factors.
In response to island traffic woes, council will consider new traffic management measures, including an annual beach parking pass. No decision on the proposal will be made soon, officials said.
"The concept is alive but it is in a research phase," said Emily Dziuban, a city assistant administrator.
The research began in the fall when council directed a consultant to study island parking management, including the idea of a beach parking pass and the logistics and costs to implement it.
"They have a lot of work to do," said Mayor Dick Cronin.
A visitor parking pass, if it happens, is at least two beach seasons away. "Definitely not next summer," Cronin said.
Consultant Stantec will analyze roads, traffic and parking and make recommendations on traffic management. Seeking an independent opinion takes the politics out of the situation, Carroll said.
"I have no idea which way it's going to go," he said.
A Stantec spokesman could not be contacted Friday for comment on when the firm will deliver its report to council.
As part of its study, the consultant is looking at every road and right-of-way on the island and identifying which are state-owned and which belong to the city, Carroll said.
Street ownership matters because some residents put landscaping in the roadside right-of-way to deter parking, which is a so-called "encroachment." Responsibility for dealing with the situation falls to the city or the state, depending on which one of them owns the road. Most of the roads are state-owned.
"The larger scope of work for Stantec's contract also includes tasks to review and field-verify existing on-street parking to determine where parking could be accommodated if the City implemented a 4-foot off the pavement buffer island-wide. Currently, a required 4-foot buffer exists only on Palm Boulevard," Dziuban said in an e-mail.
The idea of an annual beach parking pass appeared on the city radar last year when the Planning Commission unanimously recommended a $65 seasonal pass for those who wish to park on streets outside the commercial area from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from March through September. The commission recommended that up to 1,000 of the passes be issued.
The city has a parking lot in the commercial district that offers a seasonal pass for under $65. Daily parking is available for less than $10 in the business area.
Those parking spaces are rarely full because beachgoers go to the neighborhoods instead where parking is free. Many of them park on the shoulder along the ocean side of Palm Boulevard, where the 4-foot off-the-road buffer was implemented for safety reasons.
Some residents and beachgoers have had an uneasy relationship at times. Complaints have been brought to council about visitor behavior, including public nudity, drunkenness and trash left behind.
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