March 1 marked the beginning of parking season on Shell Island in Wrightsville Beach, and several recent changes to the town’s parking ordinances will affect both residents and visitors alike.
One of the biggest changes involves the resident parking passes, which increased from $25 to $35. While many residents who spoke at last month’s public hearing on the issue said they don’t mind paying the extra $10, some were upset that the pass does not allow them to park in certain areas popular with surfers and fishermen.
The pass allows residents to park in certain lots and metered spaces without having to pay extra but is not valid in the one-hour spots in downtown Wrightsville Beach and lots such as the ones near Accesses No. 2 and No. 4 on the north end. Part of the ordinance amendments that came before the town’s Board of Aldermen last month added more exception areas, including both the east and west sides of Salisbury Street near Johnnie Mercer’s Pier and on South Lumina Avenue between Sunset Avenue and Iula Street near the Oceanic Restaurant and Crystal Pier.
“I do take exception not being able to park on east and west Salisbury,” said resident Mike Edmonds during the public hearing. “I do take quite the exception in not being able to park on South Lumina Avenue. I wish you all would strike those two ideas, I think they’re ill-conceived.”
Mayor Bill Blair said the area in question on South Lumina Avenue, while popular for surfers and fishermen like Edmonds and himself, was also the area where they see the most college kids sitting and hanging out. Blair said the town is trying to prevent that and create higher turnover. Edmonds said he understood, but that residents should also have access to those prime spots.
“If we buy a parking tag, let us park on Salisbury for crying out loud,” Edmonds said.
The board agreed, eventually passing the ordinance but changing it so that residents with passes could park on the west side of Salisbury Street.
Edmonds said he was also opposed to any additional meters on Harbor Island, another major change to the town’s parking ordinances.
“I think we’ve metered the island enough,” Edmonds said.
The board voted to put pay stations in the the lot in front of town hall as well as by the tennis courts in Wrightsville Beach Park and have them in effect from May 1 to Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to align with the rest of Harbor Island. Those lots are currently free with a three-hour maximum, but enforcement has been problematic.
“The main purpose of this is basically to have turnover,” said Town Manager Tim Owens. “We see a lot of people parking there and walking to the beach and staying and filling up those spots all day.”
While town officials are concerned with beach goers in the height of the summer tourist season, those lots are also used by locals who are not Wrightsville Beach residents but come down to run the Wrightsville Loop or use the tennis or basketball courts at the park.
Blair said that while he understands that people don’t like increases, Wrightsville Beach, like the other beach towns in the county, are trying to come up with revenue for the most important thing for their tourism-based economy: sand on the beach.
Beach nourishment, officially known as coastal storm damage reduction projects, are currently funded jointly through federal and state dollars with a local match of 17.5 percent. There’s no guarantee of that help in the future, however, as the government’s contracts with different beach towns are expiring. Carolina Beach, for example, recently had its 50-year contract with the feds expire, and while they are currently undergoing a project (Carolina and Kure Beach projects run on three-year cycles, Wrightsville Beach on a four-year cycle), they are scrambling to find money for the next one.
New Hanover County has pledged their help, hiring lobbyists to work in both Washington, D.C. and Raleigh to educate legislators on the importance of shore protection to both the state and national economies. While Wrightsville Beach does not yet have their backs to the wall, they are trying to prepare for the future.
“We have two basic funding sources on this beach that can create that sort of funding – one is property taxes, and one is beach parking,” Blair said. “We have to ensure that that number’s going to be there, not just for this year, but every year going forward, and we felt like this is the best way for us to try to do the least impact on everybody on this beach without getting in on their property tax.”
Though the town has raised prices for its residents (the vehicle tax decal, which helps identify residents and allows re-entry onto the islands in case of a hurricane, also went up from $5 to $15), the idea is to have visitors and tourists help pay for the maintenance of the beaches they enjoy. Blair said he’s not quite ready to increase property taxes, which some officials believe is inevitable given the “daunting task” ahead of the small beach towns.
“We have spent a lot of time looking at parking, dissecting parking, trying to figure out how to make parking work to support the single biggest problem we’ve got laying on our doorstep,” said Blair. “We’re actually trying to sustain a revenue source to put sand on our beaches. It’s really that simple.”
Carolina Beach also recently made some parking changes, adding over 100 meters in the heart of their central business district to help increase revenue for beach nourishment. Their parking season begins on April 1. Kure Beach remains the only beach town in the county with free parking.
While the parking areas closest to the beach strand are now in effect, others are still free until May 1. Enforcement times also vary depending on the area, with the earliest starting at 9 a.m. and the latest ending at 7 p.m. For more information on parking in Wrightsville Beach, visit the town’s parking website or call the office at (910) 256-5453.