NORTH MYRTLE BEACH — A group of residents are planning to file a suit this week against the city, as tensions over beach parking bubble over in yet another coastal community.
Len Anthony, a retired lawyer who lives on the stretch of Ocean Boulevard where cars and trucks crowd the grassy median during warmer months, said he and his neighbors often see visitors darting in and out of traffic. He also said it's difficult to see oncoming cars when turning onto and off of the road.
"It's obviously been a traffic hazard," he said.
Anthony argued that, because Ocean Boulevard — also known as S.C. Highway 65 — is a state road, state law dictates that it's illegal to park in the median. He said multiple people along 10 blocks of the road had expressed interest in becoming plaintiffs on a lawsuit arguing that point, and said the suit would be filed in Horry County court this week.
However, the S.C. Department of Transportation has so far deferred to the city on how to handle the parking situation, Mayor Marilyn Hatley said. Removing the parking option could push cars onto residential streets or other places they're unwanted.
"We just do not have enough public parking lots for the people to park," Hatley said. "That is one of our goals this year, is to accumulate more parking, but it has been quite a struggle."
North Myrtle Beach has already put up no parking signs on sections where cars can cut through the median to turn, in an attempt to create a clearer line of sight.
But cars still pack the rest of the median in the summer, when beach lots, some of which are free, fill quickly. Many of the people who locate on the median are locals, like 24-year-old Ryan Hall, who parked his white GMC Sierra near 6th Avenue North on Monday.
Hall, a resident of nearby Little River, said people should watch their children more closely to avoid traffic accidents, rather than barring parking on the median.
A problem elsewhere
Parking is a challenge for many other municipalities along the South Carolina coast. Last year, Folly Beach started charging for dozens of spots near the pier, along Arctic Avenue. Earlier this year, Isle of Palms City Council also considered charging for 384 roadside spots.
IOP Mayor Jimmy Carroll said that possibility has been taken off the table, for now.
But on the fast-growing Grand Strand, scarce parking has already sparked a controversy in Myrtle Beach that's now persisted for two years.
Myrtle Beach converted several beachfront lots in its northern, residential section to paid parking in 2016, after locals complained of congestion and visitors traipsing through their yards. The move led to an outcry from residents of unincorporated Horry County who had long visited that stretch of beach.
Horry County residents, especially those in the Carolina Forest area, have been pushing on county officials since then to strike a deal that would let them park for free or cheaper than out-of-area visitors on that northern section, known commonly as the Golden Mile.
Forrester Morgan, a Carolina Forest resident, said he still goes to the Golden Mile from November to February, when there's no charge for the lots. The rest of the year, he visits state parks and often North Myrtle Beach, which he said has a more welcoming feel than its neighbor to the south.
"I sincerely hope that the city of North Myrtle Beach does not take a direction or attitude of exclusion towards people through their parking, (like) the city of Myrtle Beach did two years ago," Morgan said.