By Zach Giroux for The Island Eye News
Free parking spaces on Isle of Palms may become harder to find next beach season as the city moves toward a more expansive paid parking plan – at least from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
A temporary parking ban expired Aug. 16, lifting a restriction that had prohibited nonresidents from parking on Palm Boulevard between 21st and 57th avenues. In total, all but 10 of the city’s approximately 560 free parking spaces were eliminated, along with around 220 paid parking spots.
The ban was issued to help stem the spread of COVID-19, but, since then, there has been further discussion of reducing the availability of parking and the costs related to the barrier island’s public safety, quality of life and revenue.
July’s Council meeting concluded with a proposal for paid parking island-wide for nonresidents, which included charging visitors for parking on both sides of Palm Boulevard between 21st and 40th Avenue and on the land side of Palm between 41st and 57th Avenue, as well as parking in the right of way on Hartnett Boulevard between 27th and 29th avenues.
After deferring a vote on the subject at their July 28 meeting due apparently to confusion and necessary clarification, Council members acted concisely with an 8-1 vote Aug. 25 in favor of an expanded plan that includes paid parking on Third through Ninth avenues and at the Breach Inlet parking lot from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., effective March 1 through Oct. 31.
“This thing is malleable. We’re going to have to find ways to make it work,” Council Member Ryan Buckhannon said. “It’s a moving target.”
Buckhannon suggested providing free parking in certain areas in the city’s commercial district on Front Beach. Previously, he noted that the city spends approximately $500,000 of city tax dollars annually to provide parking on the island.
Council Member John Moye offered a more practical and pragmatic solution. He recommended the city start off by implementing paid parking just on the weekends instead of imposing a seven-days-a-week fee. Council Member Susan Hill Smith concurred that offering free parking during the week might offset the crowding and traffic volume on the weekends.
“We need to find better ways to work with the county and our surrounding communities,” said Moye, who was the lone vote in dissent when the Council passed the first reading of the proposed parking plan Aug. 25.
The paid parking system would offer a meterless and paperless approach, using the smartphone app Flowbird and license plate reading technology. The hourly and daily rates would be consistent with those at the city’s municipal parking lots, which have increased since May 30.