Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Carolina Beach changes tack on parking shortage, mixed-use deck plans on back burner

Town Council was preparing to hear from two developers on a plan to build a mixed-use project, complete with around 300 parking spots. That plan is now on hold.

Carolina Beach is no stranger to a lack of parking and now the town is considering finding a solution that would not add another large building to the beach town's skyline. (Port City Daily photo | Michael Praats)
Carolina Beach is no stranger to a lack of parking and now the town is considering finding a solution that would not add another large building to the beach town’s skyline. (Port City Daily photo | Michael Praats)

CAROLINA BEACH — In a shift away from previously discussed options for increasing parking options in Carolina Beach through a public-private mixed-use development, Town Council members have decided to explore other options before entering into any agreement with a developer.

On Tuesday, Town Council was to receive two different proposals from developers to plan a mixed-use development and parking deck. Instead of approving either one of the proposals, council opted to send the discussion to a future workshop.

Related: Carolina Beach will hear from two developers for mixed-use parking deck project

Councilman Steve Shuttleworth, council’s Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization representative, said he has been part of the reason the request for proposal was put out to the public, but he was not a fan of having a large parking deck in Carolina Beach.

“My hope was that we would find a consulting firm that would come in and do some design charettes (a meeting to discuss possible issues) and do some public meetings and get the flavor from the community of what is palatable and what is not,” he said.

With new homes being built in Wilmington and surrounding areas, more visitors are expected to make their way to the small beach town. Parking is already somewhat difficult to find during peak season in Carolina Beach.

“At some point, as people keep reminding us, we’ve got 2,000 new homes coming into River Lights and we’re going to see more and more people,” Shuttleworth said. “So, how do we adjust that and protect our residential community and our homeowners with the demand of people that want to access our beautiful beaches?”

But in Carolina Beach’s small area there are limited options — and property comes at a premium. That is why the town was considering building up, instead of out. But not everyone was thrilled with the idea of a massive parking deck.

“I personally am not interested in spending $60,000 to $80,000 or more to have someone come in and tell us what may or may not be viable. What I was more interested to hear was what was palatable to the community. The majority of people, including my wife, are deeply opposed to a large structure,” Shuttleworth said.

Mayor Joe Benson, as well as other council members, shared the anti-parking deck sentiment and agreed to look for parking alternatives.

A driverless solution?

One option council will consider is an on-demand shuttle service to get people to and from the beach (Port City Daily/Courtesy Carolina Beach)
One option council will consider is an on-demand shuttle service to get people to and from the beach (Port City Daily/Courtesy Carolina Beach)

After at least postponing the idea of building a parking deck, the question remains of how to increase parking options.

One option the town could use is finding new areas for surface lots, and provide a shuttle service to bring people to the beach, and other frequented areas.

Shuttleworth showed council a short video of a solution that is currently being used in Washington D.C. — an on-demand shuttle service with both auto-piloted and driver-operated vehicles.

Future plans for parking decks?

Town Manager Michael Cramer explained to one of the parking deck developers that council would not be utilizing either of the companies at the present time.

“Last night our council discussed the RFP’s and they appreciate the amount of work that went into the process. However, at this time they have decided not to engage any firm in the pre-development work for a parking deck. Council has directed me to conduct listening sessions with the public to determine how they would like to address our current and future parking issues,” Cramer said in an email.

No workshop date has been set yet.


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