Saturday, September 30, 2023

On-street parking will have a price in Carolina Beach

Parking meters along the 100 block of Cape Fear Boulevard covered in the off-season. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
Parking meters along the 100 block of Cape Fear Boulevard covered in the off-season. Photo by Hannah Leyva.

Carolina Beach will be getting new parking meters in a busy part of town after council members approved their installation.

At their meeting Tuesday night, town council voted unanimously to put 115 new meters along Carolina Beach’s main drag, Lake Park Boulevard, from Harper Avenue to Fayetteville Avenue. Some will also be placed on the 200 block of Cape Fear Boulevard. Currently, those areas have free, two-hour street parking.

“At the end of every season, we look for ways we can improve our parking,” Town Manager Michael Cramer said. “This is one of those ways.”

The idea came after 25 meters that were placed along the 100 block of Cape Fear Boulevard last year proved successful for the town. In addition to increasing revenue, it also helped improve turnover for local businesses and discouraged beach visitors from parking there all day.

According to Cramer, he sent letters to the 26 businesses that will be affected by the new meters. Representatives from six of them showed up to a public information meeting that was held, and six more followed up after the meeting.

“Businesses seem to be generally accepting of the idea,” Cramer said, saying most he talked to gave “strong to mild” support. A couple businesses, however, were “adamantly opposed.”

Cramer said those against the meters are concerned because they have private parking lots for their customers and are afraid people will try to park there all day because it’s free. While Cramer understands the concern, he pointed out those lots have signs saying the owners have the right to tow non-compliant vehicles and can exercise that right.

Though it wasn’t a public hearing (Cramer said that because they were not changing the ordinance, which already states there’s a two-hour parking limit, one was not required) Councilmember Gary Doetsch pointed out that no one, including those who said they were opposed, was present to speak out during the public comment time.

“If there was a lot of heartburn over this, people would be here,” Doetsch said.

The motion eventually made by Councilmember Tom Bridges allows Cramer some leeway to work individually with the few businesses that have concerns to come up with the best solution for everyone.

Doetsch also asked Cramer about the decision to install individual meters as opposed to pay stations, which are present in town parking lots. Councilmember Steve Shuttleworth pointed out that meters are more difficult to maintain long-term, but Mayor Dan Wilcox said pay stations, which would be spaced out over several spaces, would be harder for older people or those with a handicap.

“It takes a cultural shift to get people to pay on-street parking at pay stations,” said Cramer, noting this was already a problem in some of the lots. “Eventually is that something we could do? Yes, but it’s not something I personally recommend.”

The meters will be run by SP Plus Parking, the company that currently monitors the rest of the parking in town. The hourly rate of $1.50 will remain the same. Residents with parking permits will not have to pay the fee but will have to abide by the time limit.

Installation and implementation of the new meters (the town is actually purchasing 119 and keeping four as spares) is expected to cost the town $110,000. According to the parking company, the meters could collect a net revenue of $144,223 in the first year, meaning they could pay for themselves in one season despite parking fees not being collected between November and March.

The meters are expected to be in place by the time parking season starts on April 1.

Council also approved to move $12,000 out of the general fund to pay for the repaving of a parking lot currently located on the corner of Lake Park Boulevard and Hamlet Avenue.

According to Cramer, the lot, like others around town, was built on property leased to the town by the owners, with both entities splitting the profit fifty-fifty. The one-year lease on the Hamlet West parking lot, as it is known, is nearly up. The owner is willing to sign a longer lease with the condition that the town upgrade the lot from mulch to gravel.

“It’s always been mulch, but we’ve had issues this year because of all the rain we got,” Cramer said, citing the reason for the change to the 36-space lot. “We’re trying to make it so we can use all those spots again.”

When asked by Shuttleworth to give a ballpark figure of how much revenue the town made off the lot last year, Cramer said the town’s half was approximately $11,000.

“So you’re saying we can pay that off in one to two seasons?” Shuttleworth asked.

Cramer said yes, and also noted that if the owner decided to break the contract, they would be liable to pay the town back for the work they did in the lot, with the amount decreasing by one-fifth after every year that passes ($12,000 if they break it in the first year, $9,600 if they break it in the second year, etc.)

Bridges again made the motion, which was passed unanimously.

Earlier in the meeting, the council approved the consent agenda, which included the scheduling of a public hearing regarding changes to the Harris Teeter grocery store development that was approved by council last summer. The changes to the site plan, which require a new round of presentations and approvals, will be presented to the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission at their meeting Thursday night. The public hearing is currently set for town council’s March 8 meeting.

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