Growing pains: Olympia students have parking problems as apartment construction starts

01/15/2014 8:36 PM

01/15/2014 8:37 PM

When University of South Carolina students returned to their Granby and Olympia mills apartments on Monday for the first week of classes, they woke up to a surprise – parking tickets and towed vehicles.

The large parking lot that fronts the eight-story Olympia Mill building and is used by most of its residents has been fenced off for construction of a new 180-unit apartment complex on the site. So, residents and guests parked wherever they could, including on the two blocks of Heyward Street where parking was prohibited.

As a result, police wrote 57 tickets on Monday and Tuesday on Heyward Street and mill officials towed 30 unauthorized cars from the parking lot behind the buildings where permitted residents were supposed to park.

“Everybody is kind of misplaced,” said Taylor Lewis, a USC senior majoring in mechanical engineering, who has lived in Olympia Mill for two years. “We’re parking on curbs and grass, in the (city) park parking lot across the street and in the (nearby) church parking lot.”

Parking is becoming more of an issue as the construction boom in downtown Columbia reignites after the worst recession since the Great Depression. As USC’s student population swells and developers build new housing near campus to handle, it could become more of a concern. Six housing projects geared primarily or exclusively to students are being built within walking distance of campus.

On Wednesday, city officials and officials of the Philadelphia-based PMC Property Group, which owns the mills and the new complex being built next to them, were on full damage control:

•  The city will remove the “no parking” signs from Heyward Street providing about 40 more spaces. Parking director John David Spade said the street was scheduled to be opened up for parking after the project was complete, “but I moved that up.”
•  PMC is going to try to open up part of the old lot in the next two days to handle some of the overflow. “Clearly, people have been inconvenienced and we apologize,” said PMC executive vice president Daniel Rothschild.

Neither Rothschild nor mill manager Josh Harding could provide the number of students in the buildings, the number of assigned parking spaces or the number of parking permits issued.

The parking flap is a bit of a black eye for what Olympia officials have hailed as a groundbreaking project. The new apartment complex will:

•  Add momentum to the redevelopment of the village, which began with the conversion of the mills themselves, followed by the renovation and expected expansion of the community center into the 701 Whaley arts and event facility.
•  Add $20 million in investment to the area.
•  Provide 6,000 square feet of retail space to the village, a priority for neighborhood leaders.
•  Preserve the park-like grove of large oak trees and commemorate the mill village with a marker or monument. Some trees have been removed, but the ones marked with yellow ribbons will remain.
•  Include “green,” low-impact stormwater features that eliminate the need for unsightly, fenced retention ponds.
•  Be configured to preserve the views of the historic mills.

Bob Guild, president of the Granby Mill Village Neighborhood Association, said those features upped the cost of the project, but were absorbed by PMC after extensive meetings with neighbors. They also eliminated parking the company could have included in the project.

He said students got used to parking in the big lot in front of their building as a convenience. But now they will have to adjust to parking just in assigned, permitted spaces. Guild added that the neighborhood is also moving forward to a residential permitting system like University Hill that would only allow residents and a limited number of guests to park in the village.

“It’s a painful transition,” he said. “The students need to use the lots they are assigned to. And (the mills) are just really going to have to educate their residents.”

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