Yes, Hilton Head needs fresh look at beach parking

Staff photo

Charging for public beach parking on Hilton Head Island may make sense, but not for the reasons stated by Town Council members last week.

You don’t collect a fee simply because you think people are not spending enough money while they’re here.

You don’t collect a fee with no known target, or stated need, for spending the money.

And the offhand suggestion of charging $3 to $5 per hour is absurd.

Fortunately, the suggestion to charge for public beach parking fizzled after being kicked around during two days of the council’s annual workshop to establish goals.

Parking is a sticky issue that cannot be decided in a day. Just ask the merchants, residents and elected leaders in Beaufort, where parking meters downtown are an endless flashpoint, or in Bluffton, where parking is at a premium and town leaders don’t believe in charging for it.

Hilton Head avoided a quick decision, but the issue will not go away and it needs to be resolved with a good plan.

Beach parking is a key piece in a much larger puzzle: How does Hilton Head change as the face of Beaufort County changes? As the population explodes in Bluffton and Hardeeville, demands on Hilton Head’s beaches increase. Developments sell themselves as “Hilton Head” as far inland as Interstate-95. They’re selling the beach, but they don’t have a beach.

And for decades, Hilton Head has invited the world to come. It is now calculated that 2.5 million visitors answer the call each year, and that sum likely does not count people who come for the day and then head home. Now Hilton Head must be ready for them.

Town Council was right to talk about beach parking in a planning session, and staff was right to remind everyone that parking is a volatile issue and cannot be done on the fly.

An overall, islandwide beach parking plan needs to be addressed anew, in light of today’s demands.

A consistent plan to charge for parking will make sense and be worth weathering the push-back, if it is done for the right reasons. Parking fees might:

▪  Pay for more public parking spaces.

▪  Pay for a parking garage near Coligny Beach Park.

▪  Pay for improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists around Coligny Circle. The intersection of Lagoon Road and Pope Avenue needs help immediately.

▪  Pay for public beach access improvements and upkeep.

▪  Pay for a shuttle system from parking areas to beach access in peak seasons.

▪  Pay for a better parking plan at Burkes Beach and Singleton Beach. Maybe the town needs to use parts of Chaplin Community Park to address a peak-season beach-parking need in that area. Families laden with beach supplies park many blocks from the beach today.

The town has done a magnificent job of improving public beach access points, buying land to create new public beach access, and organizing parking at those places: Coligny Beach, Folly Field, Islanders’ Beach Park and Driessen Beach Park. Whatever they do, we beg them not to undo the great work that has been done, especially providing the locals with Islanders’ Beach Park.

But more will have to be done, and it is reasonable to expect that people using public beach parking on Hilton Head can and should pay for that convenience.