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Bluffton to consider parking lots, garages in Old Town

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A proposed change to the town's building code would allow public parking lots and garages in Old Town Bluffton.

Town Council will consider an amendment Tuesday that would permit building such parking spaces in the town's busiest district, including along Calhoun Street, parts of May River Road and at the Promenade.

The extra spaces would help ease traffic and parking problems caused by an increase in the number of visitors, according to town documents.

"I think it could be a game-changer," said Councilman Ted Huffman, who owns Bluffton BBQ at the Promenade. "With more and more development coming downtown, we've just been adding to the (parking) problem."

Some business owners say more parking, especially a garage, would work well in a district where available land is limited. They also argue that the lots and garages could create businesses and jobs for Bluffton residents. A local resident could operate a for-profit lot, for example.

But some aren't convinced the parking problem is bad enough to warrant more construction.

"If there is an angry mob out there (complaining about parking), I sure am not running into them," said Jeremy Gray, who owns Bluffton Antiques and Gifts on Calhoun Street.

Currently, town code doesn't allow parking lots not attached to property owned by a business or resident, town planner Shawn Leininger said. Under those rules, a site can't be used only for parking, he said.

That would change under the amendment, which also would require that 80 percent of the parking spaces be reserved for the public. Landscaping and vegetation also must separate the lot or garage from the street to soften the view, he said.

Leininger said a garage could be no taller than two stories and would have to include a liner building -- a structure separating parking from the road.

Leslie Rohland, who owns the Cottage on Calhoun Street, said more parking is needed.

She said changes made by the town in November have helped, but not enough.

Last fall, the town made several parking changes along Calhoun, including painting parking stripes and no-parking zones in front of mailboxes, driveways and fire hydrants. It also added a four-way stop at Calhoun and Lawrence streets.

"Spaces get eaten up so fast," she said. "I don't see much vacant land anywhere, so options are limited. I see this as being a reasonable middle ground."

She added that many of her older patrons would rather park in a nearby lot than walk far distances to grab a bite.

Huffman said he thinks a lot or garage could work on Dr. Mellichamp Drive, which feeds into the Promenade and wouldn't be an eyesore to street-walking shoppers.

He said more parking would help with bustling festivals. A for-profit lot could also be a business opportunity for Bluffton residents, he said.

But some think the parking issue is overblown.

Gray said some of his patrons have mentioned walking 150 to 200 yards to reach his shop. But "no one is mad that they had to walk extra. I think plenty of people visiting like it.

"I couldn't imagine an off-site facility being any more user-friendly."

The town is studying the area to come up with long-term solutions for parking, Leininger said, and will hold public meetings in coming months to collect input.

Huffman said the study will likely tell "us we need more parking."

Lots and garages might be the solution, he said.

"It would be nice to have on the books, so when the time comes, we can do it," he said.

Council is expected to vote on the amendment at its 6 p.m. meeting Tuesday at Town Hall, 20 Bridge St. If approved, council would need to vote on it once more, Leininger said.

Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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