CAROLINA BEACH — Town council received a taste of public outcry against the impending expansion of paid parking into the offseason next fall. During the public comment section of Tuesday’s meeting, over a dozen locals condemned the decision to charge $2 per hour November through February.
The vote from the previous council, to install off-season parking starting this fall, came four weeks after the election, but prior to the inauguration of the new council. At the time, outgoing mayor LeAnn Pierce and council member JoDan Garza voted against the change; current Mayor Lynn Barbee (who was then a council member) and council member Jay Healy — along with outgoing member Steve Shuttleworth — voted for it.
Owners of major island businesses decried movement toward year-round parking, casting the policy as adverse to the identity of Carolina Beach and as a thorn in the side of small businesses that remain open in the winter, when attracting foot traffic is most difficult.
“This vote in my opinion was a vote to put some people in this town out of business,” said David Cole, owner of Hurricane Alley’s.
The vote to expand paid parking came as Carolina Beach was transitioning away from its prior parking vending company and preparing to engage Pivot Parking. The town was implementing a host of updates to the parking policy: The citation fee doubled to $100 and summer enforcement will now end at 8 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.
Also in November, town council took steps to regulate private lots, which have been operating year-round and able charge higher prices, reportedly leading to confusion from visitors thinking they’re public. A deadline was issued, giving them two years to comply with stricter regulations for appearance and operations now imposed on permanent lots.
Town staff estimated to council that year-round parking could create $65,000 in new revenue, though they acknowledged that figure was a guess.
Amy Webster, owner of Pop’s Diner, said that many of her employees live off-island, and recruiting will become more difficult should they not be able to park for free to go to work.
Lake Park Steak House owner Noël Stevens said she keeps a bucket of quarters in the restaurant to assist those who struggle with navigating the smartphone-centric parking meters, and that charging in the winter months would introduce new strain on her business.
“We’ve convinced Monkey Junction people to come down, and they’re happy and they feel like part of the town,” Stevens said. “And now we’re telling them, ‘Well, you are, but you still have to pay.’”
Council member Joe Benson, twice during the meeting, referenced dozens of parking spaces that were “recently found” — meaning land that could be drawn into the town’s network of spaces as new spots — and directed staff to present visuals to the public at a future meeting.
The offseason rate will be $2 per hour and $10 per day. It will be enforced between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. That’s compared to the summer rate of $5 per hour and $25 per day. During the previous vote to make the changes, Shuttleworth wondered if the town should charge the summer rate year-round, to maintain consistency.
Jeff Hogan, head of the town’s marketing advisory committee, told the board that hired marketers often say Carolina Beach does not have enough businesses open in the wintertime to attract people — a problem he said could be inflamed by the new policy.
The overarching wish from public speakers was for council to put the matter back on the agenda for another vote. When town staff presented the parking changes to council back in November, former council member Shuttleworth asked the town manager if there would be an opportunity for the new council to change the vote, after being sworn in. The town manager said yes.
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