By Zach Giroux for The Island Eye News
Before COVID-19 precautionary measures became the topic of discussion at every Sullivan’s Island Town Council meeting, an island-wide paid parking proposal was at the forefront of the island’s plans.
In February, members of the Sullivan’s Island Council listened to a presentation from Lanier Parking Solutions, an Atlanta-based company acting as a third-party vendor overseeing a one-year pilot program that would provide its own services and staff in place of those of the local Police Department.
However, businesses and restaurants along Middle Street have made their stance known, banding together in opposition to a plan that would raise revenue in the beach town’s public right-of-way.
“It affects all of the businesses on the island. It will affect our flow of customers as well, so it’s not just the restaurants,” said Dunleavy’s Pub co-owner Jaimie Maher.
The Irish bar was closed for seven weeks in the spring due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Prohibitions on beach chairs, coolers and shade devices that have been recently lifted since taking effect in May have taken a toll on the daily foot traffic that comes to eat and shop. The Council unanimously concurred that such restrictions and restraints have deterred business on the island.
Dunleavy’s held an informal gathering Sept. 9 for business owners and restaurateurs to express their opinions and concerns. Every restaurant and business on the island was represented except Sullivan’s Restaurant, which shuttered permanently on Sept. 6.
Maher said the consensus was that a paid parking plan would be a detriment to business and that the timing couldn’t be worse due to the ongoing global health crisis that has crippled the economy. The same has been true for local food and beverage industry and store owners.
“We all depend on off-island traffic to sustain our businesses because there’s not that many people on the island who live out here,” Maher added.
He fears that implementing paid parking in the island’s commercial district and the surrounding streets will discourage visitors from making the trip. He noted that day-trippers would be more apt to patronize Mount Pleasant’s food and retail scene, where parking is free.
A petition to boycott paid parking on the island is in the process of being drafted, according to Maher.
“There are many, many people out here that have grave concerns about what this is going to do to the character of the island,” Maher continued. “Hopefully, a petition will cause pause.”
Sullivan’s Island is considering a paid parking plan similar to the that of the Isle of Palms commercial district. Town officials have received positive feedback from Folly Beach, which currently utilizes the system. Parking that could be impacted by the plan includes 2,714 parallel spaces; 109 perpendicular spaces; 25 handicap spaces; 40 to 50 spots for golf carts; and 1,760 spaces south of Middle Street.
Sullivan’s Island residents would be able to park at no charge. They would receive decals for their own vehicles and some passes to accommodate their guests. In addition, residents would be permitted to park their registered golf carts in any parking space om the island. Only non-residents would be required to pay to park, either through a paperless app or at one of four or five kiosks strategically stationed around the island.
Previously, Lanier recommended a pay structure of $2 per hour with a $10 maximum.
Council members were going to discuss paid parking logistics in March, with a plan in effect by May 1, but that option was postponed due to COVID-19. Public Safety Committee Chair Tim Reese deferred comments to Town Administrator Andy Benke, who noted that no changes have been made to the parking plan since February.
Additional discussion could take place at the Council’s Sept. 15 meeting.