JAMES ISLAND — Some thriving restaurants and a popular community theater have created a shortage of safe parking near Folly and Camp roads and caused some complaints from nearby residents about cars blocking driveways.
To address the situation, the town of James Island has stepped in to open its first public parking lot just off Folly Road on Santee Street.
Issues that spurred the project included cars backed up on fast-paced, busy Folly Road waiting to turn in to parking lots at busy restaurants, said Councilman Leonard Blank.
The situation has prompted some customers to park across the street and cross Folly Road or park in neighborhoods, Blank said.
One of the neighbors, Rick Rockwell, said he built a tall wooden fence to separate his Santee Street home from the property where the new town parking lot is located. He said people have blocked his driveway and left trash behind.
"The biggest thing was just trash and general lack of concern about the neighborhood," he said. "Every Sunday afternoon I'm picking up trash. It got to where I was dreading my Sundays."
Things have been better since the new town parking lot opened recently.
"It's improved it a ton," he said.
The nearby community theater, Charleston Performing Arts Center, is a popular draw but has only a handful of parking spaces. At times a police officer has directed traffic on show nights, Blank said.
The town signed a 10-year lease on the parking lot property and may buy it, Blank said.
Under the agreement, the town pays $2,000 per month to the land owner. Improvements are still underway, including spreading gravel on the lot and putting down stripes to mark the parking spaces. An estimate of how many cars the lot could accommodate was not available.
Money for the lease of the lot, which is less than a half-acre, is from the hospitality tax that restaurants and bars pay to the town, Blank said.
The lot is located behind the Sweetwater Cafe, Roadside Seafood, Gillie's Soul Food and Blues Cajun Kitchen, which are in the 800 block of Folly Road next to the old Centerville neighborhood. The area behind the restaurants was just a patch of woods before it became the town parking lot.
"A lot of people park back there. It definitely has made a difference," said Leigh Ann Lewis, a server at Sweetwater Cafe. "I think it's like a little peacemaker back there."
The town has a long-range goal to move parking behind the businesses on Folly Road, said Mayor Bill Woolsey.
"The parking lot is part of our effort to improve Folly Road," he said.