Free beach parking on Isle of Palms may be a perk of the past come next beach season. A public right-of-way on a state taxpayer road that has historically been cost-free may soon be monetized.
Two weeks after the island issued a COVID-19-related temporary parking ban for non-residents on Palm Boulevard between 21st and 57th Avenue for 24-hours a day that expires Aug. 16. City council is now considering a plan that would be directed at non-residents.
Tuesday night's three-hour council meeting commenced with the reading of 139 citizens' comments. The city clerk was only able to get through 50 of the comments during the 30-minute allotment. Mostly all comments were from non-residents in regards to the island's current and future public beach parking regulations.
Council's most recent plan that was proposed Tuesday night intends to implement paid parking island-wide for next year's beach season. Fees that would only apply to visiting beachgoers.
The proposal includes charging visitors for parking on both sides of Palm Boulevard between 21st and 40th Avenue and on the landside of Palm between 41st and 57th Avenue. As well as parking in the right of way on Hartnett Boulevard between 27th and 29th Avenue. Which pertains to the unregulated areas adjacent from the Recreation Center to the Residential Parking District of 27th-29th Avenue. And potentially Breach Inlet parking lot at Thompson Park which the city shares with Sullivan's Island.
Also, the city is looking to change the weekday and weekend parking times from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., which are currently from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. With the same seasonal time frame that runs from March 1 through Oct. 31.
The paid parking system on Palm Boulevard would function the same way as Front Beach except it would be meter-less and paperless. The approach would be smartphone-friendly using the app Flowbird and license plate reading technology.
The hourly and daily rates would be consistent with the Municipal Parking Lots, which were increased and fines were doubled as of May 30. A seasonal or annual pass for a discounted rate may also be a possibility.
In February, council's Public Safety Committee discussed a Managed Beach Parking Plan that consisted of implementing paid parking in designated public beach parking zones and right-of ways. This incorporation was permitted by South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) in January 2020, which was made possible by the easing of requirements.
In the past, SCDOT has controlled how paid parking zones would be delineated on the island. For many years, SCDOT indicated the city would have to improve the public right-of-way with asphalt, concrete or a grid-like material to create a more durable surface.
SCDOT deemed roads on the island acceptable for charged parking if they met specific requirements as stated here. Also, SCDOT said the definition for designating parking spaces no longer means lining each individual parking space. All the city has to do is install signs saying this area is beach parking, according to IOP City Administrator Desiree Fragoso.
That discussion more than five months ago included the right-of-way on Palm Boulevard between 21st and 40th Avenue. The outline has since evolved and is now more expansive.
After laying out the revised plan's parameters, council unanimously concurred to take no action on Tuesday evening. The motion was deferred back to committee and will reappear on the agenda next month.
Council drew back from taking a vote to send the ordinance to a first reading due to several councilmembers urging not to move forward. Councilmember Randy Bell noted how there has never been any discussion of enforcing paid parking within the Residential Parking District of 27th-29th Avenue.
"The issue is the number of cars and parking, it's not trying to restrict and limit people's access to the beach," Bell said. "We have an automobile problem. We don't have the room to park as many that wish to come here. I would hope that Mount Pleasant of all cities would actively engage with us and begin some proactive moves to provide some transportation from off-island."
Bell said he wants to see the beach parking separated from parking at the Recreation Center. He cited how the facility is funded by accommodations tax dollars that derive from tourism.
As for paid parking on Palm Boulevard, councilmember Ryan Buckhannon, chair of Public Safety Committee, said how the city needs to manage the ruts and wear and tear from parking. Instead of waiting for SCDOT to do the maintenance or go through a permitting process, the city would be able to conduct infrastructure improvements using additional revenue from parking.
Buckhannon noted that the city spends approximately $500,000 of city-tax dollars annually to provide parking on the island.
"We are the brunt of the tri-county's unbridled growth over the last few decades and our beaches are not growing any further," Mayor Jimmy Carroll said. He also compared the island's capacity issue to trying to park at a college football stadium.
The city will need to take direction on the parking situation no later than August in order to roll out the logistics for March 2021.