Like to park for free at Coligny Beach? You might have to start paying if Town Council chooses to move forward with implementing paid parking at all Hilton Head beaches, an idea discussed Thursday at its annual workshop.
No decisions were made during the workshop, held at the Omni resort’s oceanfront hotel, but there was general agreement among council members that paid parking should be consistently enforced for beach access across the island.
“(People) come over here for nothing to use our beach,” said council member Bill Harkins. “And when they come they bring their coolers, and they stay the day and leave. There’s no revenue activity taking place.”
Town manager Steve Riley said whether to implement paid parking at beaches has come up before, and the town received pushback from merchants in the Coligny area.
“Whenever it’s come up, there’s always opposition to it,” Riley said. “And we’ve just kind of been at a standstill.”
Mayor David Bennett said Bluffton and Hardeeville are growing at rapid rates, and eventually those who cross the bridge to visit the beaches could “crowd out” residents and paying guests.
“I think we should charge for parking everywhere for our town beach access,” Bennett said. “I think if it’s impacting those across the street from Coligny, the owner of that facility ought to be responsible for monitoring their own parking.”
Scott Liggett, director of public projects and facilities and chief engineer for the town, said there is no consistency in beach parking on the island: Some of it is free, while other locations are metered or require a pass. Coligny Beach Park, for example, has free parking, while Islanders Beach Park requires a pass but also has metered spots.
Council member Marc Grant said $3 to $5 per hour would be a reasonable rate to charge for beach parking, noting it would create a stream of revenue that could contribute to other town projects.
Council member David Ames said the issue does not “rise to the same level as affordable housing, but it’s still something we need to think about,” adding that council members should “move the ball forward.”
Harkins suggested one of the town’s committees should be tasked with coming up with a parking recommendation to bring forward to Town Council.
“I don’t think this is that complicated,” he said. “We have to admit we do not have a policy for parking. ... It’s just totally haphazard, a huge annoyance to people, our residents. … Buy a bunch of meters and put them in.”
Patrick Ibarra of The Mejorando Group, who facilitated Thursday’s workshop, cut off the discussion and told council members they could revisit the issue Friday on the second day of the workshop.