CAROLINA BEACH — At a town council workshop Tuesday morning, elected officials appeared poised to modify the forthcoming rollout of year-round paid parking — following public backlash. Still, they pushed off any potential changes until its March meeting.
Late last year, the previous town council voted to expand the parking season into the winter months, at a discounted rate. It was around the same time Carolina Beach brought on a new parking contractor. The contract between the town and Pivot Parking calls for the firm to enforce paid parking year-round.
The new council took over in December — with three new members and former councilor Lynn Barbee now serving as mayor. In the first few months of the group’s tenure, no other issue has sparked more controversy, public engagement and conflicting opinions than the expansion of the paid parking season.
At the meeting Tuesday morning, Barbee said he had spoken to former mayor LeAnn Pierce — who voted against paid offseason parking — and was prepared to offer a compromise.
Barbee motioned to drop January and February as paid parking months this upcoming year, meaning that paid parking in the offseason would only be enforced in November and December of 2022 — from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at $2 per hour or $10 per day.
Council member Joe Benson then made an amendment to that motion, asking to drop November and December as paid parking months in 2022 — essentially delaying the new policy for a year.
Then Mike Hoffer, a freshman council member, advocated to make street parking free in the offseason, while allowing lots to charge year-round.
In the end, none of the potential amendments received the go-ahead.
“I really don’t like making these kinds of decisions in a workshop,” said new council member Deb LeCompte.
Further talks on offseason parking are now slated for the board’s meeting in March.
“I think the residents lost big today,” Barbee said, following council’s inability to find consensus. “I think we tried to do a compromise and I’m pretty upset about it.”
Earlier in the meeting, town council finalized the game plan for acquiring Freeman Park — more than 300 acres at the north end of the island that has been mired in litigation for years.
While a settlement agreement in November called for the town to purchase the acreage from the landowner for $7 million in an owner-financed deal, the town decided instead to seek a loan from Truist Bank to fund the bulk of the purchase.
The financing agreement with Truist, for $3.25 million, comes with 2.3% interest for 10 years and no prepayment penalty. The town also has around $2.65 million in “sand fund” reserves it’s prepared to dedicate to buying Freeman Park, as well as $1.1 million in available room occupancy tax revenues, according to staff. The town previously asked New Hanover County to contribute $3 million to the land-buy.
The town plans to seek approval from the Local Government Commission — which reviews financing agreements for towns and localities — in April.
Town council also decided to pause its federal lobbying contract with former U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre — whose retainer costs $10,250 per month. Members said that given their victory in obtaining money for beach renourishment and the abundance of local projects underway, there is slim need for lobbyist influence in Washington, D.C., at the moment.
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