Town considers reinstating parking fees at Coligny Beach lot

May 12, 2009 

A motorist rolls past the empty parking lot attendent's shack at the Town of Hilton Head Island's Coligny beach parking lot on Tuesday. Parking is currently free at the lot, but with its revenues dropping as a result of the sour economy, the town may soon resume charging for parking in the Coligny area.

JAY KARR/THE ISLAND PACKET-

Hilton Head Island engaged in a small act of benevolence in 2006 when it made parking free at Coligny Beach Park, a change that saved residents and visitors about $117,000 a year.

But in these tight budget times, at least one town official finds that money alluring.

Mayor Tom Peeples has asked town employees to consider reinstating the parking fee at the Coligny lot. He proposes using the revenues to expand recycling and dog-waste disposal efforts to more beach access points, bike paths and parks.

In July, town officials placed 16 recycling bins next to the trash cans at Coligny and two at Islanders Beach Park. The results have been surprising to Shore Beach Service, which empties them throughout the day, but not in a good way.

"We haven't spent as much as we've budgeted for because we haven't taken off as many trash bags (full of recyclables) as we thought we would," said Ralph Wagner, president of Shore Beach Service, which stocks the beaches with lifeguards.

Adding more bins would make it more convenient for people to pitch their bottles and cans in the proper place, perhaps making the recycling program more successful, said Peeples.

"I'd like to see them eventually at all beach access points," he said Monday. "I think we'll have a better go of it with more trash receptacles and recycling bins."

Town manager Steve Riley is trying to determine how much revenue a parking fee would generate and the cost of adding recycling bins. He hopes to present his findings at a budget hearing in the next month. Changing the policy would require a vote by the Town Council.

An attendant collected the parking fees at Coligny for more than 20 years until a two-week experiment proved so successful that free parking was extended year-round.

Parking meters were eventually removed from the two strips of public parking along Coligny Circle. One of those parking areas was removed earlier this year as part of the park's $1.43 million facelift. The other will be reserved for handicapped and emergency vehicle parking when the project is completed around Memorial Day.

The attendant's booth still stands in the main 350-space parking lot at the corner of Pope Avenue and South Forest Beach Drive, but it is unlikely the town will staff it.

"I think if we restored it, we'd have to look at some sort of centralized meter that takes credit cards," Riley said. "It would probably be an hourly fee" as opposed to the former $4 daily charge.

The island's other beach parks have similar master parking meters.

Taking back the goodwill gesture is far from guaranteed, however.

The initial intent of the free parking was to discourage beachgoers from parking at Coligny Plaza, which is reserved for customers, and to lure people to a beach that's within walking distance of shops and restaurants.

"My immediate reaction is, I'm not sure I can go along with it," said Councilman John Safay, who represents the Coligny area. "We're in a situation where there's an economic downturn. Why do we have to (expand recycling) by increasing a relatively small source of income that could adversely affect the shopping centers and people who go to the beach?

"If we want to expand the recycling program and more of those convenience stations for people who bring dogs to the beach, which is admirable, we can find the funding from somewhere else."

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