The parking crunch that besieged the entertainment area near the end of Horseshoe Bend last year appears to be easing a bit if the Memorial Day weekend is any indication.
Camden County Sheriff's Department Cpl. Jimmy Elkin said this week there were a lot more complaints a year ago at this time. There were no calls over a recent weekend, and only one car had to be towed.
The difference could be a cooler, wetter spring, or it could be changes in the county's parking ordinance that tighten roadside parking.
"The ordinance has helped some, but not completely," Elkin said. "Cars are still parking illegally, but we're not getting as many complaints this year as we were a year ago.
The area of Camden on the Lake/H. Toads and Shady Gators has been overrun the last few years with vehicles parking illegally on roadsides and even in residents' yards on weekends and special events. Constant complaints to the CCSD have resulted in better signage and enforcement.
Patrons going to both venues are duly warned by the signs posted at regular intervals from Bittersweet Road and Verbena Road all the way to the end of Bittersweet. The new ordinance now gives CCSD officers the right to have the vehicles towed, and vehicles will be towed at the owner's expense.
Camden on the Lake, which has use of two off-premises parking lots, also has opened those previously-closed lots to parking. Elkin said the lots were used sparingly last year, and sometimes patrons were charged a fee. So far, that isn't the case this year.
The reluctance to use the lots in previous years is that patrons of Shady Gators on Sweet William Road use the Camden/H. Toad's parking lots.
The original parking ordinance was revamped in 2006 and again last December in hopes of curbing the parking morass.
Officials say that last year many of the parking signs were destroyed by unruly drivers, and steps were taken to better secure the signs. That, also, has helped.
Elkin said his department cannot post officers in the area on weekends because of additional responsibilities.
"If we're running calls elsewhere, it's hard to sit and watch the situation there," he explained. "It's pretty much a give-and-take there, and that's the hard part."
A long-term solution to resolve ongoing parking issues in the area appears to have been derailed.
Developer Gary Prewitt, who owns Shady Gators and Lazy Gators on Sweet William Road, made a move to purchase property for a new parking lot.
The property, 32 acres near Shady Gators, is currently not zoned and was somehow overlooked by the county during the zoning process. After consulting with Camden County officials, Prewitt attempted to have the property zoned and planned to build a parking lot for Shady Gators patrons' use.
Page 2 of 2 - Over the course of three meetings with Camden County commissioners and Planning and Zoning administrator Don Hathaway, the changing county position has made the construction of the parking lot impossible at this point, according to Prewitt.
Hathaway and Presiding Commissioner Kris Franken declined to discuss the parking lot proposal. Franken said since the county was involved in ongoing litigation with Glacier Park/Gary Prewitt on a zoning issue at Lazy Gators, any discussions that "we have had were done so in closed session because of the litigation and we are not able to discuss them outside of that venue."
Prewitt said he was initially told that an "at-risk permit" could be issued, allowing him to build the parking lot while zoning was completed. That would have allowed the project to be finished by Memorial Day.
Prewitt said in subsequent meetings that offer was withdrawn and requirements for an historic artifact study and other work on the property were then included in the county plan. The county changed the terms of the at-risk permit proposal and essentially blocked progress on the parking lot.
While the 32 acres slated for the parking lot is not zoned, Prewitt had agreed to leave almost half of the property in its current state, creating a green space between his property and neighboring properties. That portion of the property would have been zoned residential under the negotiated terms.
In the final meeting with county officials concerning construction of the parking lot, Prewitt was told by Franken and Hathaway that he could build the parking lot but not use it.
"The county has said all along that parking was the big issue. I have tried to find a solution to the parking problem and all they have done is change the rules every time we meet," Prewitt said.
In the meantime, Prewitt/Shady Gators has leased four houses and a 120-space parking lot adjacent to Camden on the Lake in an effort to address the parking situation.
"It is good that the county and the road district have moved to prevent parking on the streets around Camden and Shady Gator as we had suggested all along. That is a help to the homeowners and keeps congestion to a minimum," Prewitt said. "However, the real solution lies with a realistic stance on zoning by the county and the completion of new parking areas."