The Coligny Circle area on Hilton Head Island has for many years been the subject of countless drawings and dreams.
But the images of new parks, shops, gathering places, a museum, a university, a pavilion, a picnic area, a green and street realignment all look foolish when compared to a cold reality. While planners dream big in "charettes" -- which they have been doing for 15 years -- the area's chronic parking problem has gotten unbearable.
The main feature the Coligny area needs is a public parking deck.
Instead of envisioning Nirvana, the focus needs to shift to the real image of a frustrated grocer shooing away cars that would take up all his parking spaces. He has to do it because Hilton Head's most popular public beach access point lacks adequate parking facilities. Beach-goers try to park in the plaza even though wording on each parking space says it is not allowed.
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"Every Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I'm out there kicking people out of my parking lot, and it's just not right," said David Martin, owner of the Piggly Wiggly at Coligny Plaza. "I have to tell them to go park illegally because there's just no place to go."
Nearby residents also are frustrated with cars parking where they shouldn't.
The Town of Hilton Head Island has a public parking lot at Coligny Circle, but it fills up quickly during the summer months and more parking spaces are needed.
The town is considering using a grass field as a stop-gap measure to bring some relief. That's good, but it is not the solution. The town is going to have to build up, not out, and plenty of aesthetically pleasing parking decks in Charleston and Savannah could serve as models.
In recent Planning Commission meetings, the public has made it clear that parking and traffic congestion in the area are the top concerns.
Planning Commission chairwoman Gail Quick hit the nail on the head this spring when she said: "Let's get the common-sense things done now. Unless we solve traffic and parking, the rest of our ideas aren't going to work."
Meanwhile, we've seen someone with parking spaces near the circle charge $10 a day for them.
Public money is available to address the parking issue because a tax increment financing district was set up years ago to improve the area.
We don't advocate doing something without a master plan for the area, but by now the town must know what will go where.
The town did a great job of redeveloping the Coligny Beach Park in 2009, and it continually makes improvements to aid bicyclists and pedestrians. Incremental improvements will continue to be needed. A park-and-ride system using trolleys has been suggested, and that should be considered too.
Consultants are now working on a revised Coligny-area plan. It should be presented soon to the Planning Commission. The plan should first and foremost address parking, with a goal of improvements for the summer of 2015.
Parking problems and solutions for the Coligny area have been talked about for years. It is time now to do something.