Plan will tear down a bar and put up a parking lot
A plan to replace a bar in Murrells Inlet with a parking lot hinges on a request by the property owner to change the way Georgetown County requires parking lots to be landscaped. It may also lead to a review of how much parking is available in the restaurant district along the waterfront.
Sandeep Patel, owner of the Wicked Tuna restaurant, told the Planning Commission last week that he has bought the Crooked Floor Tavern on the west side of Business 17. The decision came from “concern about what it brought to the community – trouble and all that,” he said. But he added, “we have a parking issue.”
Georgetown County ties the number of seats allowed at restaurants to the number of parking spaces that are available. Those can include spaces on property that a restaurant owns or leases, said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director. The county requires landscaping around parking lots and one landscaped island inside the lot for every 10 parking spaces.
After working with Patel to create additional parking, Johnson recommended a change in the zoning ordinance to exempt Business 17 from the parking islands. In that corridor, all the landscaping could be on the perimeter. There would be no reduction in the overall landscaping, he said.
“You might pick up a few extra spaces,” Johnson said. “That also adds to what you could call a buffer.”
Peter Haentjens, a partner in the Dead Dog Saloon and Claw House restaurants, supported the change. He told the commission that the current rules cut available parking by almost 30 percent. That results in people parking on the roadside and also on private property.
At the Crooked Floor site, “all we’re trying to do is put in some parking and have some landscaping,” Haentjens said. “This is a small step to start.”
Patel said he has seen Murrells Inlet grow from a fishing village to a major tourist attraction. “We’re trying to make it better, not make it worse,” he told the commission. “We need help.”
“It’s just an attempt to add a few more spots,” Johnson said. “I can’t think of any unintended consequences.”
Commission member Sandra Bundy, who lives next to the proposed parking lot, thought of one. The current rules require a tree be planted in the parking islands. The amendment didn’t specify that a tree had to be planted along the perimeter.
“My concern is everybody loves their trees in Murrells Inlet and we need more,” Bundy said. “We’re going to take away those trees being planted.”
She also pointed out that the change could lead to expanses of asphalt without landscaping. Johnson said that was unlikely because stormwater regulations result in most parking areas along the creek remaining unpaved.
“We’re not looking for asphalt,” Patel said.
Gary Weinreich, a member of the community group Preserve Murrells Inlet, asked the commission to defer a decision until the county can do a parking survey in the area. “Parking is one of the biggest problems we have,” he said. “We need to come up with a solution.”
Preserve Murrells Inlet has pledged to work with the restaurants to find one, Weinreich added.
A comprehensive parking study would be “a major undertaking,” Johnson said. The planning office doesn’t have the staff to do that. It has also started work on a state-mandated update of the county land-use plan that is behind schedule.
But Johnson did agree that a revision to the parking proposal could specify tree planting be required along the perimeter. He also told the commission that the new rule would only apply to new parking lots. “Nothing retroactive,” he said.
The commission agreed to take the issue up again in March.
“Unless you can create more land, I don’t know how the problem is going to be solved,” Johnson said.
“There are ways to solve the problem,” Bundy said. “We just have to get them thinking about it.”