CAROLINA BEACH — More parking may be on the way to a “secret passage” in Carolina Beach as part of a revived streetscape plan.
The town council is looking to remodel Harper Avenue, a goal the 2018 council also desired but never saw through to fruition. Due to the financial impacts of Hurricane Florence the same year, plus changes in town leadership, the old guard decided it was best to recuperate by avoiding big spending. The Harper Avenue streetscape was put on hold in 2019.
Four years later, the new board is looking to resurrect the idea and questioning the best way to tackle the plan’s components, which include increased parking, a multi-use path and stormwater improvements.
Only one part of the streetscape was included in this year’s budget — adding 70 parking spaces from 3rd to 5th streets. The road’s median would be removed to make way for the angled spots.
The new additions would be paid parking; right-of-way spaces currently along the side of the road are excluded from parking enforcement. Those spaces tend to fill up with visitors, even though they’re located in residential areas.
During its Tuesday workshop, council agreed it wouldn’t make sense to charge for some and not others, but a consensus was not reached on making all the road’s parking enforceable.
On-street parking runs from March 1 through Oct. 31 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at $5 per hour. For the month of November, the rate is $2 per hour 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Based on calculations where every space fills up every day, the parking spaces would generate a maximum revenue over $1 million for Carolina Beach.
The project was budgeted for $90,000 and construction would not begin until after Labor Day, according to Town Manager Bruce Oakley.
The town has the option to begin work on this project now or wait until all Harper Avenue improvements are funded. Council member Mike Hoffer seemed to be in favor of the former.
“I think we sometimes get too caught up in the entire project that we stop ourselves from making short-term improvements that could help us out,” Hoffer said during discussion.
Other council members also spoke in favor of moving forward with the parking as a “temporary fix” to the congestion issues along the avenue. Oakley explained to Port City Daily the new spaces could be removed once the full plan is developed.
The project’s merits include relieving the pressure on the town’s parking supply, particularly on spots already lining Harper Avenue’s sides. Council member Deb LeCompte said people already illegally park on the median when other options are not available.
“Using this as parking could be part of the design we need to go back and look at,” she said during the meeting.
The entire Harper Avenue streetscape would further enhance the mile-long connection between Dow Road and Lake Park Boulevard. Described as a “secret passage” by residents in 2018, the road was predominantly used as a cut-through by locals.
As tourism has increased and businesses keep branching out, more visitors have been overflowing onto Harper Avenue’s residential areas seeking parking. In summer 2018, the road accommodated 1,522 cars on a daily average. A study has not been done to verify whether traffic has increased since.
In feedback sessions from four years ago, residents expressed wanting to preserve the residential corridor instead of making the avenue a roadway for regional traffic, along with retaining residential parking.
In spring 2019, the council wanted to move forward with the plan in conjunction with its infrastructure repairs, which would replace 5,220 feet of water lines under Harper Avenue and nearby roads. Improving stormwater retention at the intersection of Dow Road and adding vegetation to soak in water were concerns that needed to be addressed per 2018 discussions. Town staff planned to bid out those projects as part of Phase C.
The makeover also includes enhancing the narrow sidewalk on the road and adding a multi-use path to accommodate cyclists that often complicate congestion. Council discussed paving it with different material than the road to increase its visibility.
The intersection at Lake Park Boulevard would also endure lane improvements to promote effective traffic patterns and construction would reduce the salvaged median along the road from 19 feet to 10 feet long.
Council members discussed the effects the streetscape would have on residents. Starting at 3rd Street, the area transitions from commercial-oriented to more residential.
Council member Hoffer claimed past 3rd Street, the roads were not desperate for improvement. Therefore, he would like to see funding allocated to sources that need it more — Dow Road congestion, for example.
Other important considerations from the public and council were increasing the corridor’s greenery and preserving its historical charm. The roadway used to be the path of the Shoofly Train, a caboose that transported beachgoers from the woods to the shore during the 1880s. As the town approaches its centennial in 2025, Hoffer suggested commemorating the area’s past, possibly with a train monument.
Mayor Lynn Barbee said he was having trouble forming an opinion on the right way to proceed.
“What I’m struggling with is the historic aspects of this,” Barbee said. “I would like for Harper [Avenue] to be something we’re proud of when we’re done.”
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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