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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Topsail Beach considers adding paid parking on tight timeline

Topsail Beach commissioners are beginning to discuss options for expanding its paid parking to include additional spaces. (Courtesy/Town of Topsail Beach)

TOPSAIL BEACH — As a coastal Pender County town looks to a future of growth, with infrastructure needs and new construction, it’s also taxed with finding new ways to generate revenue. One commissioner has tossed around the idea of implementing paid parking townwide to help with costs.

Topsail Beach Board of Commissioners discussed the idea Tuesday and decided to move forward with researching options; however, it’s still unknown if the pieces will come together in time for the upcoming tourist season.

READ MORE: Topsail has a $141M wish list but how will it pay for it?

“The goal is to get board consensus to move forward and entertain the idea of paid parking,” commissioner Tim Zizack said at the meeting. “It would have to be done in the next 60 days to implement before the season.”

No official steps were taken, but the board agreed it was something to consider, especially seeing the revenue neighboring beach towns Surf City and North Topsail have generated from parking. Topsail Beach is the last of the three communities along the 26-mile island to consider implementing paid parking townwide.

Surf City approved paying for parking in the spring of 2021 and last year enforcement began a month earlier, while also increasing the number of spaces available.

The ordinance was approved in February 2021 to fill a $700,000 annual deficit in Surf City’s beach nourishment fund, according to past Port City Daily reporting.

Surf City’s program raked in $400,000 for the town in its inaugural season April to October, and it received $659,952 during the full 2022 season, March 1 to Oct. 31, across its roughly 700 spaces.

North Topsail Beach also implemented paid parking in 2021, and it’s enforced year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on about 902 spaces. The town took in $1.1 million in its first year of paid parking and $929,100 for 2022.

At its March 9, 2022 meeting, Topsail commissioners voted unanimously to approve paid parking only for the South End parking lot, between Shore Line Drive and Inlet Drive. It was enforced starting April 8, through Oct. 31 last year from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The popular lot is next to Serenity Point, an area sought after by visitors and residents alike. It’s also been in the spotlight over the last few months. Raleigh tech founder Todd Olson wants to purchase the land to build a family compound on 40 acres of the property. He said the parking lot would remain open for public use if his plans are ultimately approved.

The cost is $5 per hour, with a $25 daily maximum rate. Parking permits use license plates for verification and citations were issued for those that did not pay.

“The board is well aware of our financial challenges around the corner,” Topsail Mayor Steven Smith said. “And we witnessed what we could get from 27 parking spots.”

Its parking vendor, Otto Connect — recently approved to handle Oak Island’s parking — estimated a revenue of $27,000 for the season and the town actually took in $83,206 in 2022, prior to expenses and the vendor’s portion. The town shares a 70/30 split with Otto, in Topsail’s favor, for all fees, passes and citations. Violations result in a $50 fee, reduced to $25 if paid the same day.

“I think if we manage it, control it, decide it as a start and we can make adjustments in the future,” Smith said.

The board agreed the most important input needed prior to approving a parking change would be from the residents.

“The board shouldn’t decide,” Smith said. “We want to hear from the community as well.”

Also, the police department would need to provide insight on what it could handle on the enforcement side.

Commissioner Morton Blanchard wanted to restrict implementation to the 21 crossovers — dedicated space between a property and the road — already established at the town’s public beach accesses.

“Even if the crossovers are easy-picking, even if we charge for there, the spillover will go back into the neighborhoods,” commissioner Frank Braxton said. “Traffic this year will double what it was last year.”

Topsail Beach has a population of around 500 residents, which balloons to more than 10,000 with visitors during peak summer days.

While Zizack wants to see quick work to turn around paid parking for the upcoming season, Smith was leery if that was possible.

“It would be very difficult to get the right input we need, not only from our residents but there are [NC]DOT issues, enforcement police issues and a few other details as we move forward,” he added.

Topsail Beach plans to host a public input meeting in the near future, as well as a workshop to hash out options.

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