Farmers Market day on Thursdays in Bluffton is a heady adventure through vendors offering kettle corn, ice pops, fresh pasta, just-picked fruits and vegetables, a variety of prepared meals, jars of preserves, tempting cookies and fresh-baked breads.
As alluring as those might sound, Bluffton resident Valerie Norris doesn’t come to the market unless she has a visitor.
“I rarely come here because of the parking unless I have a visitor,” she said on a Thursday when she brought a friend visiting from Rhode Island. “Bluffton needs parking.”
She was pleased to hear that the plot of land beside which she had just parked her car on Green Street was under consideration to help solve the problem of parking.
In October, the town of Bluffton purchased the 1.47-acre property between Lawrence and Green streets at 68 Boundary Street for $1,095,000. The acquisition came under a resolution that fell in line with the Old Town Master Plan to focus on preserving green space, reducing density and exploring parking additions.
On March 31, Bluffton residents were invited by the town leaders to take a look at two conceptual designs and walk the layout at a preview on the property. Two project managers from the town’s Capital Improvement Program were on hand to answer questions about the plans.
Debbie Szpanka, Town of Bluffton public information officer, said 35 people stopped by the display and another three responded to the plans via email.
One of the options called for 73 parking spaces, leaving a half acre of open land. The second proposal had 69 spaces with an open area of .76 acre. The town was also looking for ideas as to how residents wanted to use any of the open space. In addition to parking and an open park layout, a small building on the property that already has electricity and plumbing might become a public bathroom.
At its April 10 meeting, Town Council unanimously approved the master plan concept for 68 Boundary Street that allows for 69 parking spaces and .76 acres of open space. According to town staff members who conducted the public preview, the majority of residents who attended voiced they preferred more open space versus providing for the additional parking spaces.
There may be some discussion of very preliminary cost estimations, said Deputy Town Manager Scott Marshall, but a formal budget will not be presented to the town council at that meeting. “It would be premature to do so,” Marshall added. “This project will be an item in the FY19 Consolidated Budget Request.”
Not only does the project have to pass council and make it into the next budget but it also has to pass muster with the South Carolina Department of Transportation and Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“SCDOT will need to approve any part of the design which affects their jurisdictional purview such as approving modifications to Boundary Street to accommodate parallel parking,” said Szpanka.
DHEC’s Office of Coastal Resource Management is required to review all state and federal permit applications for development of any sort within the state’s eight coastal counties. Projects have to follow guidelines in the South Carolina Coastal Resource Management Document, a 300-plus-page set of specific goals, objectives and policies covering resource management in the coastal counties.
Simply put, the more environmentally friendly the project is, the more likely it is to be approved. The plans for 68 Boundary Street call for a minimum amount of hard pavement with the concept drawings showing all of the parking spaces filled with gravel.
Old Town businesses will benefit from more parking.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Babbie Guscio about the proposed plans. The owner of The Store at 56 Calhoun St. hears the parking lament frequently. “Nobody’s got a really perfect solution. People want to park right in front of the stores, but there are plenty of places to park. You just have to look.”
Guscio also wondered about handicapped parking. “I don’t know where the handicapped spots are,” she said.
If all of the dominoes fall into place in short order, there will be more parking available. Just don’t expect it to appear overnight.
Pending approval of the budget, including the 68 Boundary Street project, bidding and construction is expected to take place sometime between this July 1 and June 30, 2019, said Marshall.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.