County officials tried to hold off protests and boycotts of Myrtle Beach — a reaction from their constituents to beach parking charges applied to those living outside the city limits — but, on Tuesday, conceded it’s now out of their hands.
County Councilman Johnny Vaught told Carolina Forest residents leading county opposition to the parking restrictions that a deal with city officials collapsed.
“I can’t hold these guys back any longer,” Vaught said before meeting with the residents, noting that more than 3,000 people belong to their Facebook group opposed to the parking charges.
“I’m going to just have to say, ‘you all have got to do what you’ve got to do.’ We’ve gone as far as we can go,” Vaught said.
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“They’ve been patient, they’ve held back the more militant people that are involved to keep them from getting into a confrontational situation so we could work behind the scenes, they’ve done a good job and so my hat is off to them,” Vaught said.
That group, Make Myrtle Beaches Free, Clean and Safe, boycotted the seafood festival in Myrtle Beach last year, and made a lot of public noise through social media.
Spokesman Rich Malzone declined to say after the meeting with Vaught what actions they are now planning to protest the parking fees, but says they are ready to pull off the gloves.
“We’re putting some things in place to do, watch for it on our Facebook page,” Malzone said.
“These are stubborn parasites,” Malzone said of the Myrtle Beach officials. “They want our money, they want our support, but they don’t want us at their beach.”
Vaught and Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus met with Myrtle Beach council members and officials to negotiate the price of the parking decals, and shorten the charging period to the height of the summer season.
“We thought we had a compromise,” Vaught said.
County officials asked that parking fees only be collected from May 1 through Labor Day, but the Myrtle Beach Council voted to charge for parking from March 1 through Oct. 31.
“The only thing that we got was the $100 parking sticker, that’s all we got out of the deal,” Vaught said.
And county officials had to fight for that, because original sticker prices being considered were as high as $300.
“When you go from $300 down to $100, that’s a pretty good concession — for now,” Vaught said.
It’s not good enough for the members of the Make Myrtle Beaches Free, Clean and Safe group, who say that the city wants to turn the Golden Mile area into a private beach.
“We will not support paying $100 for a decal and not be able to park in the end lots at the Golden Mile,” Malzone said.
Beach officials say that Myrtle Beach residents already are paying for their parking privileges through vehicle taxes, and non-residents should pay as well.
But Malzone says that beach residents can park in any metered spot, while those paying $100 for a decal are still restricted from parking at beach end lots from 22nd Avenue North through 68th Avenue North.
The city originally tried to limit street parking along the Golden Mile to residents only, but that plan was rebuffed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which provides federal funding for beach renourishment projects.
The city eliminated all street parking along the Golden Mile, and began charging for the street-end access areas last summer.
The $100 permit available this summer allows parking at public metered space between 21st Avenue North and Sixth Avenue South and in the street ends from 69th Avenue North to 77th Avenue North.
City spokesman Mark Kruea declined to respond to the county’s efforts to find a compromise, and the community group’s threat to protest the charges if it goes into effect March 1 as planned.
Instead, he forwarded the city’s explanation for the $100 charge that was posted on its Facebook page a few weeks ago that says the charge is comparable to vehicle taxes paid by city residents.