SOUTHEASTERN N.C. – Some of the few remaining beach towns in the area without paid parking are reassessing the option as a revenue generator ahead of the upcoming tourist season.
Two municipalities are considering paid parking as a way to collect funds for their beach-specific needs, and a third is preparing to launch its program this March.
Surf City is discussing the issue in the coming week. If it moves forward, it will join its neighbor in implementing paid parking for the first time. North Topsail Beach plans to enforce the program this March to generate revenue for regular beach maintenance and nourishment.
Monday night Kure Beach reconsidered its currently free parking as well. The council pushed the discussion to its retreat the following Monday, Feb. 1, during which members will evaluate a range of priorities.
The paid parking would mainly target day-trippers who fill the town’s lots throughout the season and take advantage of the beaches. The small town of Kure Beach grows from 2,500 full-time residents to about 6,000 at the peak of the season.
“No parking is free, either people who park there pay for it or the town pays for it,” Mayor Craig Bloszinsky told the council Monday.
Locals have other options from the public parking, such as homeowner’s association lots or walkability to the beach accesses in the six-streets deep town. At least 20% of property owners are already located on the oceanfront.
Over the summer, the town’s parking committee put out a request for proposals and received six from national firms. The committee was searching for a partner that would manage the overall process to ensure the four-member town staff could focus on other needs. It narrowed the companies down to recommend Premium Parking and envisions starting with two pay stations that use license-plate recognition rather than numbered spaces.
After listening to a presentation from Premium Parking, the council briefly discussed whether it would move forward with the company but ultimately chose to table the decision. Council also has to work out other details such as the rates per hour, ticket costs, enforcement months, resident programs, and how to use the income.
It also is interested in whether the police department can effectively control illegal off-street parking in resident’s front yards that the council expects to occur when the paid parking goes into effect.
Of the three New Hanover County beaches, Kure Beach is the only to still provide free parking through the on-season, early March to late October. Wrightsville Beach charges $5 an hour or $25 per day. Carolina Beach charges $5 an hour or $20 a day, although beachgoers can save a few bucks at meters with a time limit, where the cost is $3 an hour for up to two hours.
Free parking at the Topsail Island town’s 36 beach-access locations may soon be a thing of the past. Surf City is considering a plan in which visitors would pay to park via a mobile app. The town also is considering contracting with a vendor to enforce the paid parking, as well as other parking-related issues that often tie up police officers in the busy summer months.
The pay-to-park plan would be only for the island section of Surf City, with parking remaining free west of the bridge, Town Manager Kyle Breuer said Tuesday. Breuer also said the town is looking for ways to accommodate anyone without access to a mobile device and is considering offering free parking for residents.
Since all parking currently is free, the town’s police officers don’t have to ticket cars that have overstayed their limits. They do, however, have to enforce other violations, such as cars in no-parking zones or too close to intersections.
The number of parking citations issued by the town’s police department has increased 170% in the past three years, Breuer said. Since most of those citations are based on local ordinances, a third-party vendor would be authorized to issue them, freeing up police. If the enforcement company sees a statutory violation, such as parking in a handicapped space, the police department would be called.
Officials say such a plan would help the town provide better-organized and safer parking and also help offset the costs of tourist-related projects, such as beach nourishment.
The Surf City Town Council will consider the proposal at its Feb. 2 meeting.
Ahead of the Surf City meeting, the town is accepting public comments by calling and leaving a voicemail at 910-338- 5510 or by emailing the clerk. Attendees may also speak in person. The council will hear all comments from the public prior to the anticipated Feb. 2 vote.
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