Calhoun St. parking changes get mixed reviews in Bluffton

dburley@islandpacket.comJanuary 24, 2014 

Three months after the town of Bluffton tried to improve safety on Calhoun Street, its new rules are getting mixed reviews.

The town painted no-parking zones in front of mailboxes, driveways and fire hydrants on the road between Bridge Street and May River Road. The town also put a four-way stop at the intersection of Calhoun and Lawrence streets, prohibited parking on one side of Lawrence Street and limited parking in front of May River Montessori School.

As Bluffton police officers stop issuing warnings and begin ticketing violators next week, town officials and some who work on the road say the four-way stop at Calhoun and Lawrence streets and limited parking in front of May River Montessori School have reduced speeding and overcrowding.

"It has been effective from the town-staff perspective and I believe from the public, as well," town manager Anthony Barrett said.

At the same time, painted no-parking zones in front of mailboxes, driveways and fire hydrants are drawing frequent complaints from customers and the ire of business owners.

"We were all fed up with the parking situation, and we knew there'd be some effects with the striping," Leslie Rohland, owner of The Cottage cafe, said. "I just don't think we anticipated this much negative customer feedback."

BUSINESS CONCERNS

In October, Town Council approved the changes in response to safety concerns and the need for more parking on the street, where traffic has increased and Old Town prospers.

Sign placement and painting were completed in late November. Since then, the Bluffton Police Department has issued nearly 200 warnings in Old Town, according to police Capt. Angela McCall-Tanner. The department wrote five parking tickets during the same span a year ago, she said.

"What we are seeing most frequently is that people are parking on the sidewalk," she said in an email. They are "pulling over so far that their tires come onto the sidewalk, and not keeping their cars in the roadway set aside for parking."

Some business owners, though, say enforcement has been too aggressive.

"I've heard from numerous customers that they've received warnings for barely touching the white (no-parking) lines," Gigi's Boutique owner Emily Burden said.

"We've had a tremendous amount of customer complaints at lunch," Rohland, who owns The Cottage, said Thursday. "Today, our server warned a customer who was touching the line to move, and they got angry and left."

Rohland added that the no-parking zones mean some have to park farther away, especially problematic for older patrons who have trouble walking.

The changes could be hurting her business, she said.

"I do notice our numbers are down," she said. "The feedback we're getting from the customers -- this isn't worth it. 'No matter how good the food is,' they say, 'we can't do it.' It's lunch; there's only a short amount of time."

McCall-Tanner, in an email, emphasized the department has only issued warnings -- not citations.

"I'm not sure who is complaining about a warning," she wrote.

IMPROVED SAFETY

Other changes to the road between Bridge Street and May River Road have been well-received.

Sharon Haag, principal at May River Montessori School, said parents and children feel safer because of new parking signs that limit motorists during pickup and drop-off hours.

"It's helped immensely," she said. "Our carpool really only lasts about 20 minutes, but we were having people run around parked cars to get to vehicles stopped in the middle of the street."

Other business owners, including Burden and Rohland, praised the four-way stop at Calhoun and Lawrence streets.

"People were flying by before," Burden said.

The signs and no-parking stripes are meant to be temporary. A study to find a long-term solution for the street's parking woes is underway, according to assistant town manager James Ayers, who provided no timetable for the study's completion.

The study will look into every aspect of the street, and no solution is too far-fetched, he said.

Many ideas have been suggested. Town Councilman Ted Huffman has proposed a parking lot or garage. Other residents say head-in parking along the street or a one-way road would solve the problem.

Until then, the signs and stripes remain.

"It's a fine solution for now," Mayor Lisa Sulka said in October. "We needed to do something."

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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