City should slow parking plan, consider suggestions to improve

By The Editorial Board

Myrtle Beach City Council members may not feel they have rushed a radical new parking plan on North Ocean Boulevard, and certainly the council has had considerable discussion. Nevertheless, some council members have acknowledged reservations – even confusion – and whatever time and study the council has devoted to the issue, the plan approved and moving toward implementation is flawed.

When in effect, with 147 signs in place along more than 20 blocks of Ocean Boulevard, the plan will effectively end free parking for going to the beach. The 57 on-street parking spaces on the east side of the boulevard would be for city residents’ vehicles displaying parking decals. The council is still to decide new parking fees for the beach access lots along the Golden Mile, from 31st Avenue North to 52nd Avenue North. Rates of $4 an hour and $20 a day have been discussed for non-residents, but some council members feel the rate should be in line with parking fees elsewhere in the city.

While some details are still to be ironed out, including the timing of implementation, council members largely have dug in their heels. That stance is unfortunate. Rather than feel they’ve arrived at “... the best we could have developed given the facts and circumstances,” the comment of councilwoman Mary Jeffcoat earlier this month, the council should consider the excellent suggestions heard this past week from Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, a resident of Myrtle Beach.

Lazarus no doubt has heard from residents of unincorporated Horry County, folks who live in places such as Carolina Forest. They have Myrtle Beach addresses per the United States Postal Service, but they are not city residents, although they identify as such. In an “Other Voices” article (Opinion Page, May 19), Richard and Cindy Skrip asked the Myrtle Beach City Council, “why are you being so unfriendly to your neighbors?”

They offered some ideas, including a park and ride system, among the suggestions of Lazarus. He also suggested creating a bike lane on the west side of Ocean Boulevard with metered parking on the east side, noting that residents and visitors could bicycle on an Ocean Boulevard bike path “basically from the Dunes Club all the way to [The] Market Common.” Lazarus also suggested an annual parking pass available to non-residents and a two-tiered plan with premium parking in areas such as the Golden Mile.

The city council plan is a response to traffic, parking and public safety concerns that for years have been problems for many city residents. Lazarus is suggesting a city-county governmental approach that looks to long-term solutions with consideration for all the folks who don’t reside in the city but feel very much a part of it. Like thousands of area residents, from Little River to Socastee, when asked where they are from, the reply is “Myrtle Beach.”

Beach access is a big concern for all area residents, as well as visitors, who go to the beach. Beach access in the city of Myrtle Beach certainly is a proper city concern, but Myrtle Beach and other Grand Strand municipalities are not islands to themselves. The city council should heed Lazarus’ suggestion to slow down. If having a better plan means waiting another several months to further study all the options, that’s OK.

Growth problematic for beach access

Who knows how many area beachgoers have objected, one way or another, to the new parking plan along Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach. Some of those upset about paying to park in spaces that have been free, include students in a government (civics) class at Carolina Forest High School.

Carolina Forest, an unincorporated area of Horry County, includes a lot of folks, other than the students, who like to go to the beach, in the city of Myrtle Beach.

This past week, the city council kept intact the basic plan but is still considering parking fees. After the council meeting, Mayor John Rhodes and council members Wayne Gray, Mary Jeffcoat and Randal Wallace talked to several people who stayed. Wallace thanked the students for the extra class work they did looking into the parking issue.

Why can’t parking remain free? “Too many people,” Jeffcoat answered. The purpose of parking fees is not to increase city revenue but to better control parking on North Ocean and encourage parking elsewhere. “We’re growing in both permanent residents inside and outside the city limits, we’re growing in second home owners ... we’re growing with tourists,” Gray told the crowd.