parking on palm blvd.jpg

Visitors to the Isle of Palms park along Palm Boulevard on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

ISLE OF PALMS — The contest to find free parking during beach season could get a bit tougher if City Council's idea to charge for parking on Palm Boulevard turns into more than just talk.

The possibility of losing any more free roadside parking is disconcerting to some beachgoers.

"I would hate it," retiree Warren Lucas of Mount Pleasant said Monday.

Islander Leslie Ames felt the same way.

"That's just outrageous,"  she said.

Whether to charge a fee for the 384 roadside spaces that are now available at no cost or to make any other visitor parking changes is undecided, said Mayor Jimmy Carroll.

"This is all hypothetical right now," he said.

Fees to park on Palm Boulevard would raise funds to meet the increased demand for fire, police and rescue services during the busy summer months, Carroll said.

On peak weekends — Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day — the island’s year-round population of about 4,300 swells to more than 30,000 people. The problem is only expected to get worse as area growth continues.

Islanders raised the visitor parking issue at a recent community forum.

"We heard it over and over again," Carroll said.

Possible changes to the city beach parking plan, such as having paid parking on Palm Boulevard, are up for discussion at a 5 p.m. Tuesday meeting of the council Ways and Means Committee.

Council will also discuss whether to reduce fees for parking in city-owned lots, which could reduce some of the demand for parking on the street, said Councilman Jimmy Ward, chairman of the committee.

"It's just a preliminary discussion about tweaking the parking plan," he said.

In 2016, council implemented a beach parking plan in response to resident complaints about drunken, rowdy behavior of day-trippers that affected neighborhood quality of life. As a result, the availability of free visitor parking on residential streets shrunk from May 15 to Sept. 15 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. During that time, beachgoers are able to park for free along Palm Boulevard from 21st Avenue to 57th Avenue and along the first block off Ocean Boulevard from 3rd Avenue to 9th Avenue.

Both IOP and Sullivan's Island said they implemented beach parking plans to ensure better emergency vehicle access on crowded summer days. IOP's beach visitor parking restrictions are seasonal but the Sullivan's plan is year-round and limits day-tripper parking to one side of the street.

Folly Beach City Council last summer approved charging for dozens of Arctic Avenue roadside parking spaces near the pier that were free.

"It is important that visitors to the beach pay for the services required to serve their needs," the council said in a resolution. "The number of cars on the island continues to grow, making parking and parking space turnover an increasingly difficult challenge."

Folly has few restrictions on beachgoers parking in neighborhoods. It has small parking lots up and down the island where visitors pay to park. The county parks department also has pay parking at the pier and the county park.

Last summer, Charleston County Park & Recreation imposed a 50 percent hike in the cost of weekend admission to three popular beach parks at IOP, Folly and Kiawah Island. The increased admission applied from May through Labor Day.

At the time, the PRC said the admission fee increases were due to factors such as the rising costs of employing highly trained ocean rescue lifeguard staff and the need for more park staff to support the demand for longer hours of operation.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 843-937-5711.