CAROLINA BEACH — The results from Carolina Beach’s parking committee are in and year-round parking and simplifying its program rank at the top of the public’s concerns.
At a town council workshop on Aug. 23, Wayne Rouse, chairman of the Carolina Beach planning board and ad-hoc parking committee, presented the parking committee’s recommendations to council members.
“What we found is that residents want you to protect their neighborhoods,” Rouse said. “Parking should be easier to understand, and there is also a growing supply issue.”
The temporary committee was appointed at the town’s June 28 council workshop. The group is made up of chairpeople from the town’s other standing committees. Members were tasked with assessing the parking system to inform next year’s program, to be presented to council in September.
The town has been tweaking its parking program since its decision to cut ties with its former parking enforcer mid-2021 and enter a partnership with Pivot Parking, the company that also handles Wrightsville Beach and Surf City parking. Pivot helped the town move away from parking meters and toward electronic pay stations, while also generating half-a-million more in revenue.
From January to July this year, the town’s parking program generated $2.6 million, without accounting for expenses. In comparison, the town collected around $2 million in revenue from March to October 2021.
The council adopted year-round paid parking in November 2021 but reverted its decision in March following public pushback. The final outline was to bag on-street meters from December to February, indicating no payment needed, but allow lots to continue charging through winter.
Over the last few months, the public has been speaking out again at parking committee meetings. Members have discussed rules, regulations, improved communication, additional zones, handicap spaces and private lots.
One of the committee’s suggestions was to scale back year-round paid parking again. It recommended extending free parking everywhere, not just for street spaces, from December through February. According to Rouse, this would allow the town to “reset” before another paid parking season, making infrastructure repairs and updating machines and signage.
“I think the logic there is simplification,” said Mayor Lynn Barbee during the Aug. 23 meeting.
The measure could also reduce confusion on when and where payment is enforced. Right now, paid parking is enforced in lots and metered spaces March through October, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The rules change in November, moving from a $5- to $2-rate with reduced hours. Then regulations change again for December through February; metered street parking is free, but lots continue charging.
Another concern expressed by locals was preserving adequate parking for Carolina Beach residents.
Under current rules, there are no designated parking areas for Carolina Beach residents. Parking is first-come first-serve, but residents and business owners can pay for an annual permit to forgo daily rates. Committee members suggested creating a residential zone from 3rd street and extending away from the coast.
Locals continue to worry over non-regulated residential areas being overrun with vehicles from visitors avoiding full lots closer to the commercial areas, according to Rouse.
“Residents are complaining that people are taking over their neighborhood, and on top of that, they’re breaking the rules,” he said.
The committee voted to reaffirm Section 16 of the parking code, which outlines prohibited areas and actions, and asked council to better enforce it.
When Rouse traveled down Greenville Avenue, in the residential 200 block of Carolina Beach, Rouse found multiple cars violating the code — obstructing fire hydrants and driveways, parked too close to a stop sign or in the drive aisle.
According to council, the town’s parking enforcer, Pivot, does not patrol that area; Carolina Beach Police Department does. More stringent enforcement would fall on its shoulders, along with other public safety duties.
Contributing to the parking sprawl in residential areas is the strain on the town’s parking supply through the influx of visitors and increasing resident population. The town has 1,333 spaces to offer with a population of 6,575, not accounting for the part-time residents or visitors that need parking accommodations.
Rouse said the town’s planning board sees around 15 by-right projects start construction each month. If each of them need only one parking pass, that makes 180 passes every year, which translates to the same amount of parking spaces needed.
Visitors could also see some benefits from the parking committee’s updates. Members suggested the council offer a discount on fines for minor infractions that are paid promptly.
“Like if it’s a hundred dollar fine, if they pay it in the first few days, maybe they get it reduced,” Rouse said.
According to Carolina Beach’s website, infractions — failure to pay, double parking, and others — trigger a $100 fine. If the citation remains unpaid after five days, a $50 penalty is added to the citation making the total due of $150. Another $50 penalty is tacked on if a citation is unpaid after 10 days, making the total amount due $200.
In the same vein of easing punishments on responsible citizens, Rouse said the committee would like to see fewer tickets issued for minor infractions, like parking slightly out of the space’s lines.
“Some of the things we saw were obviously violations, but some could’ve gone either way depending on who was writing the ticket,” Rouse said.
Other suggestions from the parking committee include improving the town’s signage to differentiate town versus private lots. The town leases some private lots, splitting the profits with the owners. However, non-regulated lots were charging up to $45 per day for visitors, who often thought they were parking in town lots. In November 2021, the town gave those owners two years to comply with stricter regulations for appearance and operations now imposed on permanent lots.
Next month, the public will see which suggestions make it into a formal version of the Carolina Beach parking plan. According to council, the plan will need to be finalized before the end of October, as its contract with Pivot renews; it will give the town amply time to notify the company of any changes moving forward. Council members are expected to take a vote at their next regular meeting on Sept. 13.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org