IOP now plans to keep free parking

Cars line the street on Palm Boulevard on the Isle of Palms in this November file photo.

Those who want to play in the sand and surf at Isle of Palms won’t have to pay to park after all.

The City Council, which has been contemplating a pay-for-parking plan for years, has decided to scrap the idea in favor of having designated free parking areas for visitors starting with the 2016 beach season.

“I would hope sometime down the road we could have paid parking so that the people who come to the island can help contribute to the cost of maintaining the beach and the environment which they’re visiting, but we’re not there yet,” Mayor Dick Cronin said.

Island officials have been considering a plan that would require visitors to buy a parking pass and park in designated areas along the roads.

But after a request for proposals for companies to provide software to enforce the plan resulted in just one bid, and raised questions among city officials about whether the city had the means to manage the program, the idea was grudgingly ditched at a Ways and Means committee meeting on April 21, Cronin said.

“I’m disappointed we haven’t found a vehicle to charge people for parking in those areas,” he said.

Under the new plan, the areas that had been designated for paid parking would be open and free for anybody to park there, Cronin said.

The plan has not yet been reviewed by the city’s legal staff or the state Department of Transportation, officials said. In January, the DOT, which owns most of the island roads and controls use of the rights of way, approved a proposed street parking pass plan.

“This is something that has evolved and I really see a lot of promise in this whole thing,” Councilman Michael Loftus said of the current proposal.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Administrator Linda Tucker presented the plan, dubbed “Concept C,” to council.

The plan designates separate on-street parking areas for visitors and residents. Residents would be required to register their vehicles and display a sticker in order to park on the shoulder from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during beach season, Memorial Day through August. Special accommodations would be made for the marina, recreation center and Breach Inlet, none of which have adequate parking for events, Tucker said.

Still to be determined are the number of decals allowed per home; whether part-time residents qualify for residential stickers; whether trailers require a sticker; and the number allowed and cost for guest passes.

The proposal is based on the city of Charleston’s residential parking district ordinance, she said.

Charleston’s law, first established in 1975, requires homeowners to provide a tax bill and vehicle registration and pay $10 annually for the nontransferable decal. Renters have to prove a lease agreement and pay $7.50. Visitor passes are available for a nominal fee.

The proposal differs from earlier plans on the island in that it would require any homeowner who wanted to park on the street to display a decal.

“Everybody on the island would be smart to get credentials,” Tucker said.

The plan requires erecting signs throughout the island designating who can park in the area.

It would cost about $150,000 in one-time fees such as street signs and equipment, and about $80,000 annually for equipment upkeep, four enforcement officers and a clerk to handle permit registration.

The city projects a $1.2 million cost over the next decade.

The costs could be offset with about $85,500 annually from $50 fines for violators, but that number is hard to predict, Tucker said. That would still leave a deficit of nearly $330,000 after 10 years.

“What we had to use as our measure for (tickets) was basically our data now, and our data now is somewhat skewed because most of the tickets are written in the front-beach area for meters,” she said. “We don’t want to make it appear that we are setting a goal for tickets. Do I think it’s likely it might be higher than this? That’s certainly true, but a lot of things affect it. I wouldn’t want to over-predict.”

She also noted that more compliance from drivers means less ticket revenue.

The free parking plan has several advantages, including that it is easier to enforce than a pay-to-park plan, and it will allow easier maneuvering of emergency response vehicles from 42nd to 57th avenues, where parking would be eliminated.

“The plan addresses concerns about beach parking migrating further into the residential areas,” Tucker said. “Right now we only have certain areas of the island that are problematic, but if we don’t get a handle on it, soon it will be 100 percent of the residential areas of the island feeling the pressure of the beach traffic.”

The plan also has several negatives, such as that it does not address safety concerns on Palm Boulevard and in the avenues between Breach Inlet and 10th Avenue and it would not alleviate traffic during peak times.

According to 2014 data collection by city consultant Stantec, the island sees an influx of nearly 10,000 vehicles during summer afternoons. On Palm Boulevard, the count was 9,600 in the summer and 5,400 in the winter.

On a summer weekend some 8,500 vehicles come to the Isle of Palms daily, according to Stantec. In an aerial survey last May, Stantec counted 1,044 vehicles parked along streets.

“Potentially, we can continue to have a safety problem because we have not done anything to limit the numbers, whereas the paid permits, I think we saw as the authority to kind of limit the numbers of people that were coming over here,” Tucker said.

Some council members asked if the plan can have a “soft” opening, with delayed enforcement, but Tucker said if there’s no enforcement, there will be “blatant wholesale violation” of the rule.

Neighboring Sullivan’s Island also has been considering charging a fee for a summer visitor parking pass.

Folly Beach began an annual parking pass program last summer. It costs $100 and gives purchasers the right to park in small city-owned lots sprinkled up and down the beachfront. Otherwise, the parking spaces cost $8 per day. Folly hired a contractor to manage the program.

Folly allows free visitor parking in residential areas as long as the rules are followed such as no parking in driveways. Also, tires must be off the road.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.