County seeks parking plan on neighborhood roads

Lexington County leaders are struggling to settle on a plan assuring that public safety vehicles can navigate congested neighborhood streets.

County Council members so far are reluctant to impose parking limits on those roads, instead pondering other ideas to make sure deputies, firefighters and paramedics can respond quickly to calls for help.

The nine council members are focusing on longer driveways as a compromise.

Something needs to be done because “this is about safety for our community,” Councilman Darrell Hudson of Lexington said.

The look at longer driveways comes after an advisory group of neighborhood leaders, builders and public safety officials recommended it as the best solution. Widening neighborhood roads to lessen obstacles from parking will backfire by encouraging speeding near homes, the group said in a report last week.

The group suggested instead requiring homes be located at least 20 feet from streets to lengthen driveways, allowing parking for four vehicles. County development standards now require homes be at least 10 feet from roads, commonly allowing room for two vehicles.

The trade-off from that idea would be smaller backyards for many homes, a step that some council members agree could become controversial. It’s clear that shorter driveways, allowed since 2002, “haven’t worked out well,” Councilwoman Beth Carrigg of Irmo said.

Any change adopted would apply to new neighborhoods, but that could be a plus in dealing with expected population increases.

Planners at the Central Midlands Council of Government predict the county will be home to about 500,000 residents in 2050 compared to nearly 300,000 today. Much of that growth is expected around Batesburg-Leesville and Gilbert, the south shore of Lake Murray and the more rural western half of the 758-square-mile county.

So far, there’s no problem with county vehicles reaching residents wanting emergency help, but public safety officials are concerned the situation will arise as more homes and vehicles arrive.

For now, the situation means pushing parked vehicles out of the way at times or emergency response times beyond what’s desirable, Councilman Larry Brigham of Batesburg-Leesville said.

Longer driveways are acceptable to home builders as long as some exceptions are allowed for terrain or alternate parking spots, said Earl McLeod, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Central South Carolina.

Reducing street parking is going to remain a challenge socially since it has been long tolerated, he added. “It’s hard to change people’s habits.” Mr. McLeod said.

Changes in county development standards that could reduce street parking are “all part of a conversation we’re attempting to have” to prepare for the population growth forecast, Ms. Carrigg said.