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Isle of Palms public beach parking on Palm Boulevard may go from a free to a paid system in the public rights-of-way.

Public beach parking on Isle of Palms may change once again. The newest concept may not sit well with those accustomed to parking free-of-charge along Palm Boulevard.

The city’s current parking plan offers motorists the option to pay hourly and daily rates along Front Beach’s Ocean Boulevard, Municipal Parking Lots on Pavilion Drive and the Charleston County Park on 14th Avenue. For costs and hours of operation, visit iop.net.

However, parking on public right-of-way between 21st and 40th Avenue of Palm Boulevard has always been free and permit-less. The only requirement is that vehicles must parallel park at least 4 feet from the pavement and no double parking on a vehicle’s passenger side.

At Monday’s, Feb. 3 Public Safety Committee meeting, members discussed implementing paid parking on the designated public beach parking zones. Palm Boulevard is the only stretch of parking in the zone that doesn’t incur an expense. At least for now.

“I think because a lot of the other beach communities are moving toward paid parking in the public right-of way; this is something this city will be able to move forward with soon,” said councilmember Ryan Buckhannon, chair of Public Safety. “There’s not a whole lot we would have to do to make it happen.”

Sullivan’s Island does not currently charge for parking in the public right-of-way. Therefore, Isle of Palms would be the only municipality in the East Cooper area to impose this on its beachgoers.

In the past, South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) has controlled how paid parking zones would be delineated. After meeting with SCDOT last week, the city confirmed that decision is at their discretion.

For many years, SCDOT indicated the city would have to improve the public right-of-way with asphalt, concrete or a grid-like material to create a more durable surface. SCDOT has since changed their position and it’s in the city’s favor.

SCDOT told the city that as long as the public right-of-way is even and isn’t creating a tripping hazard between the road and the sand then it’s considered an improved, hard surface, according to city administrator Desiree Fragoso.

Also, SCDOT said the definition for designating parking spaces no longer means lining each individual parking space. All the city has to do is install signs saying this area is beach parking, according to Fragoso.

Fragoso said this clarification is financially advantageous for the city because they would no longer have to further invest in improving the right-of-way before they could implement paid parking.

One of the foreseeable parking woes is how the city would treat residents versus non-residents. Fragoso suggested visitors could pay an hourly fee and residents could be charged for an annual decal. The reason being because everyone is a taxpayer of SCDOT roads, which pertains to Palm Boulevard.

“If the city pursues and SCDOT approves a paid parking system on the island, the city would keep all parking revenues and would be responsible for maintaining the state-owned road right-of-way,” Fragoso said.

Buckhannon cited how paid parking would help lessen the burden of the costs that public services exercise to maintain the beach, safety at the beach and infrastructure to drainage on the side of the road. He said all services which have no return on investment to the city.

Councilmember Jimmy Ward, vice-chair of Public Safety, said he anticipates pushback from residents who will perceive this initiative as another tax from the city. Financial figures such as parking fees and estimated revenue generated were not discussed.

“I don’t see how it’s possible to implement this season. I think people are getting a little weary of talking about parking because it seems like we’re (changing) it every year,” Ward said.

The paid parking system on Palm Boulevard would function the same way as Front Beach except it would be meter-less and paperless. The approach would be smartphone-friendly using the app Flowbird  which was rolled out last May.

Fragoso noted Sullivan’s Island is aggressively looking into a similar paid parking program as well. Sullivan’s Island town administrator Andy Benke confirmed it.

Benke said they’re considering paid parking in the public right-of-way. Council will discuss the topic further at its Feb. 18 meeting.

“Recent exchanges with the SCDOT have clarified the requirements necessary to proceed with a paid parking plan. One option would be to charge for parking as early as this spring or summer,” Benke added.

IOP’s Public Safety Committee will continue this discussion before rendering a decision whether or not to take it before full council.