SURF CITY — Surf City implemented paid parking for the first time last spring, one of the last coastal towns in the region to do so. In preparation for the upcoming season, the town will create 50 additional spaces, enact paid parking a month earlier and increase rates for premiere spots.
The town paid Rich and Associates, a Michigan-based parking consultant, $22,150 in September to identify short-, mid- and long-term strategies to fulfill projected parking demands. Surf City currently has 1,391 parking spaces, including on- and off-street parking and designated golf cart areas.
“It’s important for the town to understand what the capacities are and to try to start putting plans in place to address the increased demand on our natural resources,” town manager Kyle Breuer said. “Certainly, [paid parking] was not implemented to keep people away. Council had good vision with basically saying, ‘We need to understand this and take appropriate steps to evolve the parking management program but also evolve opportunities for people to come visit the beach.’”
The data concluded that on peak days, like July Fourth weekend, more than 1,000 vehicles are parked in town; however, a two-week average shows just 514 spaces are taken daily during prime beach season.
As a direct result of the analysis, the consulting firm recommended converting Kinston Avenue’s three separated parking lots into one singular lot, netting an additional 50 parking spaces.
The lot services the central business district — from Goldsboro Avenue down to Raleigh Avenue, and includes Roland Avenue, which ends at Soundside Park. More spaces will alleviate congestion during high-use times, since the majority of popular stores and restaurants are nearby and many events are held at Soundside Park throughout the season.
Breuer said the goal is to complete the project before peak beach season, as it should only require about a week’s worth of work. The lot will remain gravel and construction work will be minimal to bulldoze the grassy medians between each section.
Rich and Associates also suggested raising parking rates for the more sought-after spaces, including those along Kinston Avenue.
“Not just from a revenue standpoint but also to help distribute parking to other areas up and down the island,” Breuer added.
The hope is for patrons to park near restaurants or shops temporarily. There will be lower-priced options on the outskirts encouraging beachgoers to park in those less-congested areas rather than take up vital space in front of businesses. Breuer expects the plan to increase visitation to private establishments.
The 646 parking spaces around the central business district will cost $5 per hour, with a $25-per-day fee. Spots throughout the rest of town will remain at $3 per hour, or $20 for the day.
The town also moved the start of its paid parking to Mar. 1, up from Apr. 1 last year. The season runs through Oct. 31.
“There’s clearly a demonstrated volume of people starting to come earlier for the so-called season,” Breuer explained. “Also, there’s a gap in revenue we’re always trying to maintain.”
The motivation behind enacting paid parking last year was to offset costs of beach nourishment. The town is budgeting to owe roughly $25 million in startup construction to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, despite North Topsail Beach recently withdrawing from the combined federal project.
A year ago, the town council approved enforcing paid parking from Apr. 1 to Oct. 31 for non-residents to fill a $700,000 deficit in its beach nourishment fund. Councilman Dwight Torres cast the sole dissenting vote and suggested increasing parking capacity before forcing visitors to pay.
Aside from the revenue impact, the town staff felt it was a safety issue not designating parking spots, as vehicles parked in rights-of-way, on private properties or in other random, often unsafe, locations.
“In the past, people haphazardly parked essentially wherever they could,” Breuer said. “As long as all four of those tires were off the pavement, they were going to cram into a right-of-way somewhere, the closest opportunity to get to the beach that they could.”
During the summer of 2020, prior to paid parking, Surf City Police issued more than 500 tickets for parking violations.
Signage around designated parking areas will be updated with larger text and easy-to-read directions. Visitors pay through a text-to-park function, scanning a QR code or visiting the website of Pivot Parking, the town’s parking management provider.
Pivot Parking employees monitor designated areas daily and scan license plates to ensure patrons have paid and their time is not yet expired. Violations could result in a $50 citation.
In its inaugural paid parking season, Surf City netted roughly $400,000, which will be utilized to help offset costs for major capital projects, such as beach nourishment. Around $250,000 was spent on first-year startup costs, including materials, parking bumpers, rocks for rights-of-way and signage. Breuer expects the town to rake in an additional $300,000 in profit this year.
Non-residents can order season passes online for $250, with a $25 discount for military, senior citizens and extra-territorial jurisdiction, or residents that live outside municipal limits but still under the Surf City planning and zoning authority.
Property owners receive two free seasonal passes, as well as island re-entry decals, verifying their residence for returning in the event of an evacuation. Additional passes for property owners are $100 each. Owners may choose to designate their passes to tenants in leased or rented properties.
Surf City supplies each downtown business four free parking passes for employee use and applies a discounted rate for any additional.
All decals can be picked up at 305 N. New River Dr. between March and October.
This article was updated to clarify property owners receive two free passes. They decide whether to give the passes to renters.
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