By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Editor
This summer both Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms will be implementing brand new parking plans that aim to reduce resident frustrations with parking and increase public safety, both for those people moving about the islands during the busy summer months and for the access to and around the islands by emergency vehicles.
In fact, Sullivan’s Island’s parking plan is expressly designed around the department’s brand new fire truck. It being the largest vehicle on the island, Town Administrator Andy Benke used its dimensions to determine which side of the roads on Sullivan’s Island would lose all parking under the new regulations agreed to by council at its January workshop.
“Our underlying focus is public safety, the ability for ambulance and fire trucks to move around, and the safety of visitors walking to the beach,” Benke explained at the workshop. “The strategy is to remove parking from one side of the street and introduce ‘all wheels off the street,’ parking islandwide.”
The latter portion of the plan will require a new city ordinance, but the former only requires the council to approve the purchase of signs to enforce the new parking, which will be a year round regulation.
According the research by the town staff and a study Stantec undertook this past year, the island currently has 4,969 parking spots. By eliminating parking on one side of every street, other than Middle Street, that number will drop to 3,413. Based on Stantec report there are 1,565 cars parked on the island at peak times.
“So you can see supply exceeds demand,” Benke said. “To reduce by 1,500 you’re not going to inconvenience visitors at all and it creates a safer environment for residents,” said Benke.
However those just under 5,000 parking spaces are spread the length and breadth of the island, whereas beach parking tends to be concentrated in a 2 to 3 block radius to the east of Middle Street from Station 16 northwards. Therefore it is likely visitors to the beach will see a decrease in the spaces where they usually park, although not a huge number, as many of those streets are already one side of the street parking only.
Council also pointed out that there is a small town parking lot behind the Post Office for visitor parking, as well as the school parking lot, which can be used on weekends. Additionally, the new town hall will provide 52 new off-street parking sites for commercial area.
Chauncey Clark, chair of the Public Safety committee which presented this idea at the council workshop, believes this is an effective, simple solution.
“Doing an island-wide plan is much easier than creating resident only parking and districts and decals etc.,” he said. “I understand we will need signs to enforce this and other logistics.”
The only hurdles to clear to have the plan in place by June 1 are: passing an ordinance to restrict parking to all wheel off the pavement; clearing the areas of right of way which have been encroached upon by residents (“There will be some people who are not going to be happy about that,” Councilmember Sarah Church commented), and the purchase and installation of the signs to indicate where parking is not allowed.
Much Ado About Signs
While purchasing and installing signs may seem like a simple process, Isle of Palms has been running into a few roadblocks with this exact issue. Chief among these is public feedback.
Numerous residents who live at the back of the island where there is little to no beach parking were horrified to learn that there would suddenly be a large number of signs installed on their streets as part of the new Managed Beach Access Parking Plan. The influx of signage prompted one audience member at the city’s January council meeting to dub the city “Isle of Signs.”
“I’m upset that we are now going to be putting 444 signs on our properties,” said island resident Julia Tucker during public comments.
“I personally consider that it looks trashy. I’m not impressed with the way to notify people where they are going to park. I have never seen a person park in my street or my yard to go to the beach, putting these signs up is going to create a commotion, you are going to have some very upset residents.”
The signs will be placed at every street corner to indicate the island’s residential zones, where, from May 15 through September 15 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., only residents may park. This is part of the city’s new parking plan which designates free, on-street beach parking zones along with the residents only parking.
Tucker was one of five members of the public who spoke out against the signs at the meeting, and several council members reported hearing similar concerns from their constituents.
However, council stood firm on the plan, despite some dissension from members of council. Mayor Cronin pointed out that you can’t enforce something without a sign and the parking plan that has been approved by council was specifically designed to be island-wide. The plan which left the back side of the island unregulated, and would therefore not have necessitated signs, was voted down by council last year.
Council went ahead and approved $58,900 to purchase and install signs, with council members Carol Rice, Sandy Ferencz and Jimmy Ward voting no. Newly elected Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Bergwerf pointed out that if they had failed to approve the purchase then parking plan would have been left dead in the water for this summer. However, the numerous calls for a phased roll out of the signs, or the removal of the signs in the fall were noted and tabled to be discussed at a later date.
“If we want to take them down in the fall and the feedback is that there is no parking problem then that’s something we have to absorb,” Mayor Cronin said.
“If we go forward with buying these signs and we’ve heard our residents talk about sign pollution I think we need to take into account at a future meeting budgeting to take them down,” said councilmember Carroll.