OAK ISLAND — Council discussed at Tuesday’s meeting the first draft of a paid parking plan on the island that could be finalized as early as September, if approved.
Oak Island is one of the last beaches in Brunswick County to offer free parking.
Mayor Pro Tempore John Bach shared his thoughts and preliminary vision that would require payment for row spots south of Davis Canal, applicable from April 15 through Sept. 15 annually.
According to the plan, the council would also develop a shuttle system that would transport visitors from a remote paid parking lot to the island.
Bach suggests residents should be exempt from rates with parking stickers. The plan also eliminates right-of-way or non-metered street parking island-wide.
“It’s time to revisit paid parking,” Bach said in the meeting. “There are two truths about paid parking. One, it’s necessary and it’s inevitable. Two, it’s a wicked problem because there are all sorts of dimensions to it.”
Bach said the “visceral impact” of increased traffic over the Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays justified its need.
“We’re at a point now where public safety is at risk and private property is being damaged and violated repeatedly,” Bach said in the meeting.
He added the town is looking at a $20 million price tag for this year’s beach renourishment, which increased revenue from parking could help pay.
Other council members did not speak on the issue during the meeting, but every single member sent written comments and criticisms in response, according to Bach. He stressed the plan was still in its early stages and would morph and adapt with the feedback it receives in the future.
Former town council candidate Niki Cutler shared her support for the program and was the only person to speak on parking during the meeting’s public comment period. She worked on a paid parking plan for the island that was tabled in 2016.
“Do not let the pet complaints that will come up derail this,” Cutler said. “There is really not anything that is not manageable as to why we can’t have paid parking.”
Public input sessions could start as early as this month and move into August in order for council to make a decision by September. If approved, the council would start seeking a vendor in October to make a final selection in November. Along this timeline, the council would have the opportunity to discuss specific rates and stickers in its December budget retreat.
“This plan is not all-encompassing — it’s a catalyst for discussion,” Bach said in the meeting.
Also brought up during the meeting was the option to prohibit low-speed vehicles, a.k.a golf carts, on Oak Island Drive. To do so, the council would have to petition the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which maintains the road.
“I have been approached by several about the safety issues that we’ve been having on Oak Island Drive with the golf carts impeding traffic,” council member Sheila Bell said.
According to Oak Island Police Chief Charlie Morris, there have been 11 traffic accidents involving golf carts over the last five years, three of which occurred on East Oak Island Drive.
On a daily basis, East Oak Island Drive has on average 4,000 cars traveling approximately 32.5 miles per hour. State law allows low-speed vehicles on state-maintained roads with speed limits under 35 miles per hour.
Despite the low number of accidents, Morris said the biggest problem the carts cause are congestion and safety related. Because of their limited speed capabilities, golf carts slow traffic and require car drivers to practice extra caution. Morris described that with people or equipment that sit on the back of golf carts, turn signals and break lights can be obstructed. He also noted that safety issues arise with the lack of seatbelts and multiple headlights on golf carts.
Council members suggested possible solutions included lowering the 35 mile per hour speed limit on Oak Island Drive. Morris said it only would increase traffic jams, not solve the problem.
Most council members noted many infractions came from tourists rather than residents, and banning golf carts during the busy summer months would be the best solution.
One resident addressed banning golf carts during public comment. He supported lowering the speed limit, but spoke against full restrictions of the vehicles.
“We already struggle with enforcement of our current LSV violators,” resident Mark Spicer said. “This ban would penalize full-time residents.”
No action was taken on the matter.
Conversation on both topics will continue at the next town council meeting Aug. 16.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at email@example.com