CAROLINA BEACH — Navigation is tight in Carolina Beach and its town council drilled down on issues on parking Tuesday morning.
Surrounded by water with the exception of neighboring Kure Beach to the south, the town is looking to improve traffic maneuvering and parking for its growing numbers of residents and visitors.
READ MORE: Carolina Beach parking committee suggests expanding free parking in winter, reducing confusion for visitors
Chief among the topics was evaluating the town’s parking system; any changes will need to be passed in October, ahead of the town’s contract renewal with Pivot Parking. On June 28, the town tasked an ad hoc parking committee with analyzing weaknesses in the paid parking program.
The town has partnered with Pivot Parking for a year after cutting ties with their former parking enforcer mid-2021.
Wayne Rouse, chairman of the Carolina Beach Planning and Zoning Commission and ad hoc parking committee, presented the committee’s conclusions at the Aug. 23 workshop. It included an expansion of free parking, more parking designations for residents, and clearer rules and signage.
Since last month’s workshop, town staff have met with Pivot Parking and the town’s technical review committee to map out the logistics before council meets Oct. 11. Elected leaders and staff seek a balance between what residents want while also accommodating the influx of tourists to the island during summer vacations.
Part of that balance is addressing the sprawl of parking into unregulated neighborhoods farther away from the central business district, in effect causing concerns from Carolina Beach residents.
Beachgoers often park in the town’s right-of-ways in front of homes, cutting off spaces for residents and increasing traffic in non-commercial areas. Right now, enforcement of violations are complaint-driven. Pivot Parking’s contract does not cover the entire town and police have other priorities, according to council.
The parking committee voted 9-0 to amend the ordinance at the last parking committee meeting in August to better regulate neighborhood streets but council was divided on how to do that.
“It’s about enforcement — we’re not enforcing the ordinances we have,” Councilmember Deb LeCompte said during Monday morning’s workshop.
Councilmember Mike Hoffer claimed the council may be addressing a problem too early, but Mayor Lynn Barbee advocated the council should approach solutions to inevitable issues.
“Changing behavior is harder than setting behavior,” Barbee said.
Staff’s recommendation, presented Monday by Assistant Town Manager Ed Parvin, was to amend the ordinance language to include unpaved right-of-ways, or the grassy off-road strip in front of a ditch. The amended ordinance would refer to these spots as “undesignated” right-of-ways and allow council to set parameters. One option could be to restrict right-of-way parking only to residents with town passes.
Council did not indicate a consensus on how to handle that issue before moving on to the next parking item — adding more handicap spaces. Parvin said the town has identified spaces the council could change to handicap, though didn’t note how many, with the potential for more to be allocated during the off season.
Another recommendation was to better differentiate town parking from private lots with simpler town signage. Last year, the town required private lots to comply with stricter appearance and operations standards, including putting up signs and clearly marking spaces, but drivers are continuing to park in more expensive private lots, some presuming it’s a town-regulated space.
The council agreed more signs would not solve the problem.
“We’re wasting our money putting these signs up,” Mayor Pro Tem Jay Healy said. “if you’re a tourist, you don’t care.”
Mayor Barbee pointed out tourists were not the only ones confused; he said he was getting complaints from residents as well.
“If they don’t know, then we have failed somehow,” he said.
The council favored Healy’s suggestion to mark town lots with a symbol, “like a starfish.” According to Parvin, signs would not need to be replaced if stickers could suffice.
Then there’s the concept of town passes for natives in nearby towns, such as the contentious “over the bridge” pass for New Hanover County residents. The parking committee voted against recommending it, yet Councilmember Hoffer kept the door open.
“I haven’t let go of the OTB pass,” he said, connecting their need back to the right-of-way issue. Hoffer hypothesized the majority of those drivers were not tourists from miles away, but rather from area municipalities that know how to take advantage of Carolina Beach’s parking availability. He posed that providing an OTB option could divert locals from adjacent towns from neighborhood right-of-ways.
Councilmember Joe Benson claimed the town had the capacity to support OTB visitors, but Healy countered by stating the numbers are currently 10 passes per one parking space; with OTB passes, the ratio would increase 14:1.
Mayor Barbee again pointed to the future.
“I think you’re just delaying the inevitable, this won’t be sustainable,” he said. “We need to drive where we want to be in the future [going back and forth] keeps it stirred up, this political drama.”
Residents have been outspoken against the OTB passes, claiming the town’s limited parking supply should be reserved for Carolina Beach residents and taxpayers.
The council discussed providing a Pleasure Island parking pass, encompassing Kure Beach and Fort Fisher, with more ease. Since the two townships already partner together on other projects, like water and sewer authority, beach nourishment and island-wide events — an island-wide pass could improve connectivity.
Barbee said the move would accommodate for major events, such as fireworks and parades.
“Kure Beach people are not going to come here to go to the beach, we’re not going to go to Kure Beach,” he said.
Barbee and Healy agreed to meet with Kure Beach council members soon to explore the initiative further.
They talked through some other potential improvements: 2-hour spots west of Lake Park Boulevard on Raleigh Avenue, Cape Fear Boulevard and Charlotte Avenue, and reducing parking ticket prices for minor infractions that don’t impede safety.
Current tickets are priced $100; minor infractions would go down to $25. If paid within 24 hours, the cost of the ticket would be cut in half and if paid in 48 hours reduced by 25%. Right now, penalties start racking up after five days, but the council discussed extending that to 30.
“I’ve always been a fan of incentivizing rather than penalizing,” LeCompte said.
To reduce confusion, the council is also considering amending its payment hours. Right now, the hours change throughout the year and on-street parking is not enforced from December to February, though public lots continue to charge.
The committee requested the town not charge at all in December, but it does not seem that change will happen; the members also did not rule out free parking in January and February.
They were in favor of changing the summer season hours from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. to match its dogs-on-the-beach ordinance and allow more time for surfers to catch a wave before the workday begins.
The council will consider all parking changes during its Oct. 11 meeting, which could be implemented as soon as December.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at email@example.com
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