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Island explores solutions to summer parking woes

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The future of roadside parking on the north end of Pawleys Island is under review by the town Planning Commission, which hopes to present Town Council with recommendations for improved parking safety by next summer.

The issue was first raised this summer by commission member Walter McElveen, a north end resident, who told the council that roadside parking on Atlantic Avenue means pedestrians are forced to walk in the street.

“We need to immediately address how to make it safe,” he told the commission this week. “I don’t think it’s safe now.”

The commission stopped short of endorsing McElveen’s view, but agreed to look at safety improvements.

“It many be unsafe,” commission member Bill Doar said. But if the town restricts roadside parking, “that’s going to create some real serious hoopla.”

Under the town’s zoning ordinance, property owners have to maintain sight lines for vehicles at intersections and driveways. That would apply to landscaping as well as parking, and the regulations aren’t enforced. If they were, “there wouldn’t be any parking,” Police Chief Guy Osborne said.

There were five days this summer when the island’s parking spaces were full. “Every possible area you could park had cars on it,” he said.

Island traffic this summer was 25 to 30 percent higher than in 2009, he said. The traffic volume is due to growth in the area that has more people looking for beach access, and the fact that people drive around the island looking for parking spaces. “We’re oversaturated during the summer,” Osborne said.

Mayor Bill Otis said the town has created just two parking spaces in the 13 years he has held office. Those were at Shell Road on the north end and were intended to help make the northern tip of the island eligible for state and federal beach nourishment funds by increasing public access.

Osborne, in his ninth year as chief, said roadside parking on the north end “dwindled down since I’ve been here as more people landscape.” But he said beachgoers, particularly teenagers, are creative in finding and making parking spaces in the area that remains.

He recommended the town create places along Atlantic Avenue where cars can park at an angle. That’s a technique drivers already use.

“If you take away parking, it’s only going to compound the issue,” Osborne said. People will continue to come to Pawleys Island and they will continue to search for parking. “You’re eventually going to have a backlog of traffic that can’t move.”

The town already sees that at the county-owned parking area on the island’s southern tip.

Cars back up on Springs Avenue as people look for parking spaces in the county lot. The competition for spaces leads to arguments and fights. Most of the town’s arrests for “disorderly conduct” are the result of south end parking disputes, Osborne said.

The Planning Commission review is focused on Atlantic Avenue because it has a 50-foot right-of-way. There are no rights-of-way on the side streets, Otis said, or on the streets in the Birds Nest section or Springs Avenue on the south end of the island. There is no access to the beach along Myrtle Avenue in the middle of the island.

But even where there are rights-of-way, Otis said, “in the Pawleys manner, the roads are not in the middle of the right-of-way.”

In some cases, the pavement runs over property lines, he said.

Critics “scream about not being able to park on the right-of-way,” Otis said. “The fact is, there is no right-of-way.”

The only way to know where there is right-of-way for parking is to look at the plat of each lot, he said.

Just because there is public right-of-way, doesn’t mean it should be used for parking, McElveen said. “There are a lot of things you can do in the right-of-way,” he said. “They can be used as paths for pedestrians.”

McElveen said he tried to find someone at the state Department of Transportation who could tell him how much space is needed to park safely in the right-of-way. He was unsuccessful.

Although the town’s roads are state roads, DOT will go along with whatever the town decides, as long as it’s reasonable, Otis said.

“Do we really want to take control of the right-of-way?” asked commission member Bill Tuttle.

“It’s the town’s responsibility to provide for safety,” commission member Fran Green said. “What’s the responsibility for providing parking?”

Parking at beach accesses – always the first spaces to fill up – is considered by the state and federal government in providing funds for beach nourishment, Otis said. Since the town doesn’t have designated spaces on Atlantic Avenue, those aren’t included in the access calculations, he said.

Tuttle said the commission needs to know how much parking is needed to ensure the north end stays eligible for beach funds.

“That’s assuming there’s enough room in the right-of-way for safe parking,” McElveen said.

“Safety has to be the first consideration,” commission chairman Howard Ward said.

McElveen said he would still like to hear from DOT safety engineers. Doar suggested that Clemson University could provide help, as it is doing for a streetscape project in Georgetown.

The commission will follow up on those ideas before its next meeting.

Members also asked for suggestions from Otis and Osborne.

“I want what the town wants,” Osborne said.

“I would not be doing the right thing by interjecting,” Otis said.

He wants to limit his role to providing information to the commission, but he also suggested a framework for its discussions: “Do we support parking? If so, how do we deal with the safety issues?”

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