IOP Managed Beach Parking Plan

On February 1, 2021, the City received a letter from the Secretary of Transportation, indicating the Department's position regarding parking along the state-owned rights of way on the Isle of Palms. In the letter, Secretary Hall stated SCDOT's intentions to revoke full approval of the parking plan implemented by the City in 2015. 

The development of the City’s Managed Beach Parking Plan was a collaborative, extensive effort among City Council, the Isle of Palms community, traffic engineers, City staff, and SCDOT. City Council held multiple public hearings and special meetings to discuss the impacts of beach traffic and develop strategies to reduce hazardous traffic conditions, ensure safe access for police, fire and medical vehicles responding to emergencies and preserve the safety and welfare of pedestrians while protecting and providing parking for beach access. A reverse chronology of parking and beach access improvements is available here.  

In response to years of repeated calls by residents to address the impact of beach visitors in their community, the City began to formulate a parking plan to balance the concerns of residents and the needs of beach visitors.   The City hired traffic engineers to conduct a traffic study and, in consultation with SCDOT, develop a plan consistent with the City’s responsibility to regulate and provide safe on-street parking. The development and implementation of this parking plan cost the City approximately $250,000 of taxpayer dollars. This sum is likely dwarfed by costs associated with the material amount of staff time involved. These costs were incurred in specific reliance on directions, recommendations, and permissions from SCDOT.

In a letter to the City, dated June 12, 2015, then Secretary of Transportation, Janet P. Oakley, stated that the South Carolina Department of Transportation recognized that the regulation of on-street parking is a responsibility assigned to local governments by the South Carolina Code and the City’s plan was consistent with this responsibility. Secretary Oakley applauded the City’s efforts in developing a comprehensive plan that addresses the summer traffic issues on the island. In a letter from Christy A. Hall, who was the Deputy Secretary for Engineering at the time, she acknowledged the proposed plan as an effective strategy to manage resident and visitor parking demands into the future. 

The City has relied on SCDOT’s approval and the course of dealing with SCDOT officials for the implementation of the parking plan since 2016. These SCDOT officials were not only local representatives but those at the highest level of authority who routinely make binding agreements with outside entities who rely on their authorizations.  After the implementation, the City has additionally spent over $1.6M to manage beach parking. These costs do not include other significant, material expenses incurred by the City to provide services to beach visitors, including restroom facilities, trash pickup and police and fire protection. None of these costs are paid for by SCDOT but are provided by local tax dollars and revenue from City owned parking lots.

The City’s Beach Parking plan was modeled after the accepted, long implemented parking plans of the City of Charleston and City of Columbia. Neither of those plans have been publicly questioned or challenged, to our knowledge, by SCDOT despite their similar regulation of parking on state roads. The City of Isle of Palms parking plan enables safe, orderly, beach parking in reasonable proximity to public beach access points in compliance with the City’s Local Comprehensive Beach Management Plan as approved by SCDHEC. In fact, the Isle of Palms has eight times as many public access points and more than seven times the minimum required number of public parking spaces to provide full and complete public access according to SCDHEC’s standards.

The City’s parking plan was a proactive approach to efficiently manage the impact of the unbridled growth of the Charleston region, the increase demand for beach parking while protecting the residential neighborhoods. It was developed in coordination with SCDOT in recognition of the City’s broad statutory authority to regulate parking on all roads within the City limits, a proposition not challenged by the SCDOT.

The City welcomes the opportunity to meet with Secretary Hall and her staff to discuss her recent concerns with the City’s parking plan and collaboratively work towards a resolution of this issue. The City  believes that both parties approaching this discussion in good faith will result in a plan which provides a safe beach experience for all South Carolina residents and visitors to our state.