Goodbye, Free Parking

Written By: 
Pam Windsor
Photographs by: 
Randall Hill

Myrtle Beach City Council addresses parking concerns in the Golden Mile by ending free parking for non-city residents

In a move that brings to mind the old saying “all good things must come to an end,” Myrtle Beach City Council recently ended what remained of free parking along Ocean Boulevard.

A new law that went into effect July 5 now requires motorists to pay $2 an hour or $10 a day to park at all street ends from 31st Avenue North to 82nd Avenue North. Only neighborhood residents with city decals can park at no charge.

The fees are required every day from 9 a.m. to midnight between March 1 and October 31 and can be paid via cell phone, unless parking meters are already in use.

Council also banned all parking on the west side of Ocean Boulevard along the Golden Mile area (from 31st Avenue North to 52nd Avenue North), and only neighborhood residents with city decals can park on the east side of that same stretch. For a complete list of new parking guidelines, visit cityofmyrtlebeach.com.

The decision to require paid parking in an area that has always allowed free access to the beach came after years of increasing complaints from residents frustrated by the growing influx of cars moving through their neighborhoods.

“The number one issue was safety,” Myrtle Beach City Council member Mary Jeffcoat explained. “If you’ve been down on the Boulevard in the last couple of years, it was a mob scene with cars parked on either side and up and down the avenues and it was really dangerous. That was the number one issue. And the second issue was protecting the integrity of the residential neighborhoods.”

Council’s decision in May to pass that new law generated a lot of media coverage, especially after it caught the attention of some Carolina Forest High School seniors who frequent the beach in that area. They were upset with the move to designate it pay to park, as well as with an initial proposal to set the fee at $4 per hour with a daily maximum cap of $20.

“We’re all broke basically,” said Jessie Vanedia. “And in a town with a bunch of tourism you basically pay for everything else and we’d never had to pay for the beach. It’s the one free thing we’ve always done.”

After hearing about the new fees, Vanedia walked into her Advanced Placement Government class and asked teacher J.J. Iagulli if there was anything she and other students who were also upset could do about it.

“I responded by saying ‘well, what did you learn all year? How do you change policy?’” Iagulli recalled. “And they went ahead and listed a bunch of things. And I said, ‘if you want to do this I have no problem supporting you. I’ll do whatever you need.’”

The students began researching the issue and launched a petition drive to try to stop it.

“We put it up on a Friday,” Vanedia recalled, “and by the next day we almost had 1,600 signatures.”

By Monday they had more than 3,500 signatures. Local news media caught wind of their efforts and began requesting interviews. Iagulli touched base with City Manager John Pederson, who offered to come out and speak with the students to answer some of their questions, a generous move given that the high school is outside Myrtle Beach city limits.

“He spoke to us about it,” Bailey Provencal recalled, “and said ‘if you have any solutions we would love to hear them.’ And we had so many questions we wanted answered to help us understand and see the other perspective as to why they are passing this ordinance.”

That Tuesday, the class went to the Myrtle Beach City Council meeting. Provencal and fellow senior Liam Zevgolis got up to speak, noting some of the students’ concerns. They knew that given the Council agenda format it was highly unlikely their questions would be answered, but they felt it was important to share their research and be part of the process.

They were surprised when some members of Council, led by Councilmen Wayne Gray, offered to stay after the meeting and speak with them. The list included Gray, Jeffcoat, Mayor John Rhodes and Randall Wallace.

For more than an hour Council members fielded questions ranging from whether increased parking fees might be unfair to nearby businesses to whether the city was trying to privatize the beach to whether it might hurt tourism. Zevgolis, a surf instructor, noted the fees would have a direct impact on him and many others who enjoy water sports.

“Everybody in Horry County uses those beach accesses, and with me, especially being a surf instructor and I surf myself. And [I’m] a paddle boarder and just taking the kayaks out and really just loving to be on the beach in the water. They’re making you pay to park in the only places you can participate in surfing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and all that kind of stuff. So any tourist that comes down and rents a paddle can’t even take it to those accesses without having to pay more.”

Gray outlined why Council felt it was necessary to not only require paid parking, but had considered the unusually high rate. He pointed to the growth of the city, surrounding Horry County and the influx of tourists to Myrtle Beach—all of whom want to park in those limited number of free spaces close to the beach.



“Over the last 10 to 15 years as we have grown—mainly in the Carolina Forest area where there’s 40,000 residents that live where you folks live—and as we’ve grown in more tourists, mainly staying in off-the-beach hotels, that has created a demand in the number of visitors who want to go to the beach in this area that is adjacent to a residential section,” Gray explained.

He noted that while at one time heavy traffic just occurred over a few days during the week for a few months in the summer, in recent years it’s become more common throughout the week and now lasts for more months of the year. He said something had to be done.

“You have this chronic, non-resident parking problem where there are not enough parking spaces. It has become a public safety concern and a public nuisance to the residents that live there.”

Jeffcoat noted that while the students were successful in collecting so many signatures in protest of the pay-to-park plan, this only helped clarify the problem they were facing. “We have 200 parking spaces in this area that we’re talking about. Two hundred that we have deemed to be safe. And your petition actually makes our case. You’ve got 3,000 people saying they want to park in our 200 parking spaces.”

As the impromptu question-and-answer session came to a close, Council members explained that while they understood the concerns, their main responsibility was to their constituents—those residents of Myrtle Beach. And while they ended up reducing the higher-than-average parking fee of $4 an hour, which they admitted was designed specifically to reduce congestion by encouraging people to park elsewhere, they intended to move forward with the pay-to-park decision.

“I don’t think anybody on Council is going to compromise on not paying,” said Gray. “We’re going to continue to have too many people in the area. We may compromise on the price. I don’t know about that.” He later explained that the pay-to-park plan along Ocean Boulevard is just one step in a long-term plan to manage the explosive growth of the area. “That’s the biggest balance that has to constantly be handled about entertaining a goal to get the 20 million visitors a year and all that comes with that, but yet making a quality of life for 30,000-plus residents who live here year round.”

He says the city has already begun looking at property to buy or lease downtown that could be used for parking space in the future. He mentioned that “park and ride” programs may one day be an option. “We’ve, in fact, had conversations privately with property owners regarding that. And given the proprietary rights and the privacy of that I can’t disclose who that is and where it stands, but we’ve already been trying to address that. And will continue to address that.”

As for the students, while they might not have been successful in getting Council to reverse the decision to charge for parking, they were pleased to have been part of the process. “We didn’t really love the answer,” Provencal said, “But we were pleased with them saying they’re going to talk about the prices and maybe lower them.”

“It’s a step in the right direction,” noted Zevgolis. “You can’t get anything done if you’re silent. If you go out there and you really get your voice heard, you’re definitely going to have more of a chance of making an impact than if you don’t do anything about it.”

While Council members commended the students on getting involved, they noted the parking issue comes at a time where something absolutely had to be done. “We’re one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country,” said Jeffcoat. “And when Myrtle Beach was developed and those street ends were put in, nobody ever thought we’d have the kind of growth we’ve had. So what was designed for a small beach town can’t accommodate a large urban area without some management. And that’s just where we are today.”

BEACH PARKING ALTERNATIVES

Here’s a look at what nearby public beaches to the north and south of Myrtle Beach currently charge for parking:

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH: All nine miles of North Myrtle Beach currently offer free access.

MYRTLE BEACH STATE PARK: $5 per person, $3 for ages 6 to 15, under 5 is free. There is no cap on the amount charged.

HUNTINGTON BEACH STATE PARK: $5 per person, $3 for ages 6 to 15, under 5 is free. There is no cap on the amount charged.

SURFSIDE BEACH: $1.75 an hour or $10 a day at most meters and lots. Parking at meters near Surfside Pier is $2 per hour.

GARDEN CITY, LITCHFIELD BEACH, PAWLEYS ISLAND: Free.

BRUNSWICK COUNTY (Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle, Holden Beach and Oak Island): Free.