NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – The City of North Myrtle Beach passed the first reading of an ordinance that would establish paid public parking at certain city-owned lots, but this will not create paid parking in all of the city, city leaders said.
The plan is to make the beach access parking lots at 3rd Avenue North, 4th Avenue North and 3rd Avenue South paid parking lots, costing $1 per hour, because the lots are currently being used by hotel employees, North Myrtle Beach Spokesperson Pat Dowling explained.
"This is just a situation we must get a handle on," Mayor Marilyn Hatley said.
City leaders said employees from neighboring hotels, such as Avista Resort and Peppertree, are parking in the oceanfront lots, taking up spaces for people to park who are headed to the beach.
"These lots are for beach parking," Mayor Hatley said. "When people come and to go to the beach and our locals who live here want to go to the beach, there's no parking."
The city has received complaints from people who have had difficulty finding parking spaces in oceanfront lots and have had to park across the street instead.
"These cars sit there all day long," Mayor Hatley said.
The goal is to encourage employees to park in their company-owned parking lots and free up space for tourists.
"What we're really introducing is turnover," Dowling said. "Are they going to want to spend $8 to $10 a day or are they going to say, 'You know what, I'll just park across the street in the free public parking lot?'"
Dowling said this was an issue several years ago at the Wyndham on Ocean Drive, so the city made the lot at 4th Avenue South paid parking.
"It's worked out pretty well," he said. "We're really looking to introduce fairness."
The general manager of Avista Resort said employees are only allowed to park in the oceanfront lots during the off season. He said during the tourist season, they have to park in the upper levels of the hotel's deck across the street or in the other lots over on the other side of the street. He also said the public can park in the hotel's parking deck, so they actually help to provide parking. Plus, he said the free parking in the oceanfront lots is useful to hotel guests, who are tourists, when they're checking in and out of the hotel.
He also said both tourism and residential development have continued to grow, requiring more parking.
The ordinance gives the city manager the ability to establish paid parking in other areas of North Myrtle Beach, but Dowling said that would have to go through city council.
"He doesn't have to go back each council meeting and say, 'I want an ordinance on this street end,' or whatever, but he's obviously employed by seven people, city council," he said. "He's not going to do anything without consulting with them. They give him his marching orders. It just makes it a whole lot easier to plan out for the future."
The ordinance itself justifies the paid parking because the beaches are a primary attraction for most tourists and visitors to the city, North Myrtle Beach continues to grow, acquiring additional land for public parking lots and facilities will add to the limited amount of parking currently available, and paid parking will create a revenue stream for the city to acquire additional land for parking lots and facilities.
Mayor Hatley said the goal for the city is to retain free parking.
"I feel like our citizens, they pay their taxes and we would like for them to be able to park free, and it's a friendly beach and we want our tourists to enjoy the beach," she said. "If there's any way possible to keep from charging, that's what we're going to do."
She said the city is hoping a bill will be introduced in the South Carolina Legislature this upcoming session to allow the city to have a one percent sales tax to buy additional parking and pay for other necessary services for the city, such as beach renourishment.
She points out free lots are still available near the lots that could become paid parking if the ordinance passes second reading.
"There's a big huge parking lot directly across the street from where the paid parking is going in," she said. "There's a lot of street end parking. There's a lot of other parking and it's going to be absolutely free to go to those areas."
North Myrtle Beach Finance Director Randy Wright said the paid parking would likely be instituted January 2, if it passes second reading, in the lots at 3rd and 4th Avenues North.
However, the parking spaces in the lot at 3rd Avenue South are going to be reconfigured before it becomes a lot that requires payment, he said.
City council also passed the first reading of an ordinance to change from the pay and display method of payment for city parking in lots requiring payment to a payment app called Passport Parking, which city staff told council members saves the city money by not requiring installation of a payment machine in the lots that could become paid parking lots.
The free app will be able to be accessed by a cell phone or tablet to pay for parking or by a phone number if the user doesn't have a smart device.
City council also passed the first reading Monday night of an ordinance to allow booting for vehicles deemed public nuisances on public property, which are vehicles that have $75 or more of traffic or parking citations. The owner will then be required to pay outstanding citations before the vehicle is released.