Bluffton Town Council approves new rules for Calhoun Street

dburley@islandpacket.comOctober 7, 2013 

A plan approved Tuesday by Bluffton Town Council responds to residents' concerns about safety and the need for more parking on Calhoun Street.

But it doesn't go as far as striping individual parking spots on the road, which has seen an increase in traffic and visitors as Old Town continues to prosper.

With the plan, the town will stripe no-parking zones in front of mailboxes, driveways and fire hydrants on the road between Bridge Street and May River Road. The town also will put a four-way stop at the intersection of Calhoun and Lawrence streets, prohibit parking on Lawrence Street and limit parking in front of May River Montessori School.

Parking on Calhoun Street "is a free-for-all -- everyone knows that," said Margie Fox, a resident who attended the meeting and had a child at May River Montessori for eight years. "By doing this, we're defining what we expect from visitors, from business owners, and what we expect police to enforce."

Assistant Town Manager James Ayers said the project is a temporary fix until the town finishes a long-term study and crafts a permanent plan for the street's parking woes.

The study is expected to be finished by late spring or early summer, town spokeswoman Debbie Szpanka said.

While the majority of the plan passed Tuesday, council did nix a measure to stripe 76 individual parking spots on the street.

Council members said they felt spots would become permanent and not fit with the all-natural aesthetic of Old Town.

"I see no reason to have the spots," councilwoman Karen Lavery said. "It will make our street look like a landing strip."

Some business owners feared striping individual spots would limit the number of patrons who park on the street, which currently has no marked spaces.

Ayers said without the individual spots, he's not sure how many cars can fit on Calhoun Street once the striping and signage is in place.

Once the project is finished, town manager Anthony Barrett said the Bluffton Police Department will introduce a 30- to 45-day warning period for drivers parked illegally. After the warning period, police will enforce the no-parking zones with tickets, he said.

Town staff unveiled the plan last month after some Calhoun Street residents and business owners complained of drivers parking in front of their fire hydrants, driveways and sidewalks, and blocking mail trucks from deliveries. Others said parked cars made it hard for pedestrians to check oncoming traffic before crossing the street. The Bluffton Township Fire District said haphazard parking on Calhoun and Lawrence streets might impinge space needed for a responding fire truck.

After the meeting, several Calhoun Street residents smiled in relief.

"We've needed this for a while," resident Page Camp said of the plan. "It's a step in the right direction."

In other Council business

Council also approved Tuesday the first reading of an ordinance that would prohibit texting while driving in Bluffton town limits.

The ordinance defines texting while driving as writing, reading or sending text messages while operating a motor vehicle, according to town documents.

Violators would face a misdemeanor fine of $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second and $300 for each additional violation, according to the ordinance.

Texting while driving is already banned in Beaufort, on Hilton Head Island and in Beaufort County. Council will vote on the measure at its Nov. 12 meeting.

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