By Brian Sherman, The Island Eye News Managing Editor
The decision by the Isle of Palms City Council to open up approximately 550 free and paid parking spaces on the island had nothing to do with a pending lawsuit filed by members of a Facebook group that now has more than 8,000 members, according to Mayor Jimmy Carroll.
As of Aug. 16, day-trippers will be permitted to park for free on the ocean side of Palm Boulevard between 21st and 40th avenues and on the land side of Palm between 42nd and 57th avenues. Because of action taken at an Aug. 13 emergency meeting, parking also will be allowed on one side of Third through Ninth avenues, the two municipal lots at Front Beach will revert from 50% to 100% capacity and motorists will be able to park for free in metered spaces after 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. for the rest of the beach season – through Oct. 31.
In its ever-evolving efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the Council voted at its July 15 meeting to shut down all parking, except for island residents with a proper decal, contractors and members of the Turtle Team, all along Palm Boulevard and on Third through Ninth avenues. In addition, parking on Hartnett between 27th and 29th was reserved for residents and those using Recreation Department facilities.
The measures passed by Council members at their Aug. 13 meeting were in no way affected by the lawsuit filed by the Charleston Area Public Beach Access and Parking Group, Carroll said.
“Not at all. We’re not going to be bullied by a bunch of keyboard bullies,” the mayor commented. “We do feel that everybody should have the right to go to the beach. They just can’t all come at one time.”
“We’ve had unbridled growth across the tri-county area by developers of condominiums, apartments and subdivisions, all within 10, 20 or 30 miles of the beach,” he added. “There’s only three public beaches, and they aren’t growing. Everybody can’t sit on the beach at one time. That’s a fact of life.”
At its Aug. 13 meeting, the Council also extended emergency ordinances to permit local businesses to use previously banned plastic products, require everyone to use face coverings inside retail establishments restaurants, encourage social distancing and require restaurants and bars to operate at no more than 50% capacity. The Council also permitted live entertainment until 10 p.m. rather than 9 p.m.
Parking, however, was obviously the main reason for the emergency meeting.
“The No. 1 problem for our businesses is parking for their customers and employees,” Council Member Ryan Buckhannon said. “It’s not just folks going to the beach. If they don’t have a place to park, they’re not going.”
“I’m OK with Palm Boulevard, but incremental action would be much better,” Council Member Philip Pounds countered. “To just rip the band-aid off and open it up makes no sense to me. We should take incremental steps and see how it goes for the next 30 days.”
Council Member Rusty Streetman asked that parking continue to be prohibited on Third through Ninth avenues, but he agreed to open up a total of approximately 30 spaces on one side of each of the streets, with the Fire Department deciding which side. The measure passed by a 7-2 vote, with Pounds and Council Member Randy Bell voting no.
The vote to extend the prohibition on parking on Palm between 42nd and 57th needed six votes to pass – because it was part of an emergency ordinance – but received the support of only four: Pounds, Bell, Streetman and Council Member John Moye.
Reserving Hartnett Boulevard from 27th Avenue to 29th Avenue for residential and Recreation Department parking was approved unanimously, but there was some disagreement on whether to re-open the municipal lots near Front Beach to 100% capacity. There are a total of 427 spaces in the two lots combined, which provide parking for customers and employees of Front Beach businesses as well as for visitors to the beach.
“This is a COVID issue,” Bell insisted. “Business is down everywhere because of COVID. Let’s not continue to accept the blame on this Council for business being down.”
The vote to totally re-open the municipal lots passed by a 6-3 vote, with Moye, Bell and Pounds disagreeing with the majority.
Despite Carroll’s assertion that the Council’s Aug. 13 decisions had nothing to do with the lawsuit filed by members of the Charleston Area Public Beach Access Parking Group, the following message was posted by Lee Rowland, the group’s administrator: “Make no mistake, the Isle of Palms City Council and other governing authorities have heard our voices. Our work is not done. The lawsuit against the Isle of Palms is still pending as the issues raised in our complaint are still valid. “