Carolina Beach seeking funding for a handicapped-accessible mini-park

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1710 Carolina Beach Ave. NorthPlans to build a handicapped-accessible space on a piece of land owned by the town of Carolina Beach are moving forward per the approval of the town’s council.

At their Tuesday night workshop, council members agreed to let town staff members look into grants that would fund the development of an oceanfront lot at 1710 Carolina Beach Avenue North into an area where people with special needs can enjoy being by the water.

Mayor Dan Wilcox was a council member in 2010 and voted to purchase the land.

“The idea was that we provide a special needs facility,” he said.

For Wilcox the project was one of importance to both his civil service life and his personal life.

“Being the father of a special needs son, I value a space like this,” said Wilcox, whose son has low vision problems and a mild form of Asperger’s. “I think there’s still a need for it.”

Plans for the lot were put on hold soon after it was bought when two of the the three council members who approved the land’s purchase were not re-elected to their seats and Wilcox ran an unsuccessful campaign for the mayorship.

“We weren’t able to get our teeth into it,” said Wilcox. “It’s time to pick it up again.”

Schematic drawings for the proposed mini-park from 2011 show handicapped parking spaces, elevated decking, walkways, restroom and shower facilities, a gazebo and possible future beach access. Estimated costs from those plans were around $50,000.

“Everything on the lot would be accessible, easy to use and as enjoyable as possible,” said Planning Director and Assistant Town Manager Ed Parvin, who made the presentation of the project to the council.

“I think that would really be an asset to the community,” said Mayor Pro-Tem LeAnn Pierce.

Council member Sarah Friede, though she was in favor of the idea, voiced concerns that the park would not be beach accessible to those in wheelchairs due to rocks and other landscaping issues that would prevent a ramp from being built. Wilcox responded that it was intended to be an ocean overlook area and that there were other ways to enjoy the beach.

Steve Shuttleworth, another council member, also had similar concerns but agreed that the overall concept was a good one.

“At the end of the day we need to do something,” Shuttleworth said. “We’ve owned this lot for a while now.”

The town council gave direction for the mayor to work closely with Jerry Haire, the town’s project manager and grant writer, to figure out the best way to get the park funded.

“What I had intended at the time [the land was purchased] was to pay for this with grants, and that’s still my priority,” said Wilcox. “With the money that can be raised, I believe we don’t have to ask tax payers.”

“For programs of this nature, people tend to open their pocketbooks,” Wilcox added.

The town will be looking at several grant opportunities, including one sponsored by Home Depot that has a quick turnaround. According to Parvin, the funding match for that grant is unknown at this point, but the timeline is open and awardees are notified within two months of applying. If everything pans out without too many delays or plan revisions, construction on the park could start as early as the end of spring 2016.