Effective immediately, there are 55 more spaces to park in Bluffton’s Old Town.
Town leaders are celebrating, but some question whether the new spots are enough to relieve the historic district’s notorious parking woes.
The spaces, which are free to use, are located in a Calhoun Street lot owned by Cornerstone Church. They raise the total number of parking spaces within walking distance of Old Town to about 900.
The lot is open to the public daily with the exception of Sundays between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and during two festivals: the Bluffton Village Festival in May and the Christmas at Cornerstone Festival in December.
The initial two-year agreement between Bluffton and Cornerstone pays the church $12,750 annually for access to the lot, according to town documents.
Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka called the agreement “a win for everyone involved — the town, the church, Old Town businesses and visitors.”
They’re not looking at this from a comprehensive, big picture standpoint.
Ted Huffman, Old Town business owner and former Bluffton town councilman
Ted Huffman, an Old Town business owner and former Bluffton Town Council member, said Thursday he thinks the new spaces are a step in the right direction, but to call it “a win” is a stretch.
“Any new space is a positive thing,” he said. “But piecemealing this thing is not going to be a long-term solution.”
Sulka disagreed, saying town leadership “believes in a satellite approach to parking — a little bit here, a little bit there, a little bit down the road.”
In addition to the Cornerstone Church parking, the town is working toward adding about 75 spaces a few blocks north on Dr. Mellichamp Drive.
“That is not the long-term solution to this problem either,” Huffman said. “There should be a big, designated parking lot that’s easy for out-of-town visitors to find.”
Huffman, proprietor of Bluffton BBQ in the popular Promenade Street shopping and dining area, was recently part of a group that pitched an idea to use town funds to buy a parcel of land and build a lot large enough for about 250 new spaces.
He said in May that town leaders essentially ignored the proposal.
“They’re not looking at this from a comprehensive, big picture standpoint,” Huffman said Thursday.
Sulka said the town “is working to be more proactive” in dealing with parking issues.
Shellie Hodges, executive director of the Greater Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, said there is “no one right answer or solution” to Old Town’s parking crunch.
“It’s going to take a combination of things,” such as partnerships like the one between the town and Cornerstone Church, new lots, time limits, and possibly metered spaces in front of busy storefronts.
As Old Town, and the Promenade specifically, “builds out to capacity,” the need for new parking will only grow, she said.
“There needs to be some vision for parking five to 10 years down the line,” Hodges said.