Island Eye News Staff Report
The Sullivan’s Island Public Safety Committee met Monday morning to discuss recommendations from a special ad hoc committee on parking. Council members Tim Reese and Chauncy Clark and Mayor Pat O’Neil have been tasked with coming up with ideas to address parking problems in the business district.
Fire Chief Anthony Stith has indicated that his fire trucks and emergency response vehicles have trouble when trying to get through the business district and outskirts on crowded days. According to the Chief, “The problem is there is nowhere for folks to move to the side when the streets are crowded. My trucks can’t get down the street because the cars have nowhere to go.” He wants the town to consider eliminating parking on one side of Middle St. from Station 20.5 to Station 18, and from Station 22.5 to Station 26, on the ocean side of Middle St., or eastbound lane.
Mayor O’Neil noted, “What has happened when we eliminated parking on the side of the streets inside the business district is we moved the bottleneck down the street.”
The town estimates that this would eliminate approximately 82 parking spots around the business district.
Poe Tavern’s managing partner and Sullivan’s Island resident Rusty Bennett pushed back on the necessity of removing these spots. He said he could not “Cite another municipality eliminating parking spots because of perceived public safety issues.” He continued, “This is taking away valuable parking, public parking is an asset.”
Island resident and business owner Pat Ilderton wondered, “How many times has life or property been put at risk?” He also suggested the town use a traffic consultant.
Resident Brian Hellman worried about unintended consequences, noting that the elimination of these spots would force visitors further into the neighborhoods. “Taking away good paved parking forces cars into the right of way and into people’s yards, making this plan more of a burden on residents,” he said.
In order to try and compensate for these lost spots, the committee and residents presented several ideas and options. Chair Chauncy Clark said, “We want to get to a place where we can use the spots we have.” Councilmember Tim Reese suggested using Battery Thompson as a permitted lot for restaurant employees and making the parking next to the tennis courts and Stith Park 2-hour paid parking to encourage churn for patrons of local businesses. “We are the only island that does not charge for parking,” he said.
A presentation was made suggesting current lots in private hands could be converted to parking. The committee wants to discuss the options with the private property owners before making any recommendations. However, the owners of Poe’s indicated they would like to open their property for more parking. Rusty Bennett said, “It is an idea whose time has come.”
Joe Henderson, the town’s zoning administrator, informed the committee that at least three ordinances would have to change to allow these parcels to be converted to parking. There was significant pushback on allowing parking behind Poe’s, on Jasper Blvd.
Heidi Brown, who lives in the neighborhood, remembered that these lots were allowed to be split only if they remained residential. She said the town, the residents and the businesses went through years of negotiations to change the law to allow the split lots, and that the town risks, “Undermining its credibility if it fails to stand by an agreement.”
Pat Votava, who owns a house across from the lots, thought “the issue was settled,” and was astonished it would even be up for consideration. “Who in here wants a parking lot in their front yard?” she asked. “Owners on our street deserve the same quality of life as the rest of the island.”
Island resident and former council member Susan Middaugh said, “Any changes to these agreements allowing the commercialization of these lots would “Negate a bargain made.”
In the standing committee discussions, Chauncy Clark reiterated this was a starting point for discussions. Traffic is bad and getting worse and the town needs to be proactive he said. Councilmember Sarah Church agreed, but was hesitant to endorse a plan that would include parking on the Jasper Blvd. lots. “It would not be fair for the residents who bought those houses with the understanding that the lots across from them would remain residential,” she said. Mayor O’Neil indicated he wanted to speak to the owners individually.
In the end, the committee decided to recommend extending the one-sided parking on Middle St. to council, but to hold off on any further recommendations until they had more discussions with the neighbors and private property owners. All the ideas would be shared with full council but with only the one recommendation at this time.