Monday, June 24, 2024

Sunset Beach moves forward with paid parking committee

Sunset Beach is assessing a paid parking program with a committee to conduct research and recommend to council how to move forward. (Courtesy photo)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — One of two beaches in Brunswick County still offering free parking is making moves to do otherwise.

During its Tuesday meeting, Sunset Beach town council voted unanimously to approve a parking committee application process. The advisory group will help gauge next steps in a paid-parking program.

READ MORE: Paid parking season arrives: Here’s what it will cost and what beach towns gain

The committee will be made up of five full-time Sunset Beach residents, five people from the mainland, two business owners and two council members. They will be tasked with conducting research and recommending whether to move forward on paid beach parking, also offering justifications and explanations on their suggestions.

Some town council members expressed concern over the language used in the committee application, devised by councilmen Mike Hargreaves and Charlie Nern. The two were appointed to conduct a study on beach parking last year and the application for a committee is the next step.

Councilmember Jamie Phillips did not approve of how open-ended the first inquiry was:  “Why are you interested in being a member of this Committee?”

He accused it of welcoming bias.

“My problem is, I don’t think there’s a parking problem,” Phillips said. “So if someone writes in here that ‘I don’t think there’s a parking problem,’ and that’s how they answer  …  I’d like to ask the other council members if they would admit them onto this committee?”

“That’s why we’re saying the applications go to all of council, the mayor, and the town administrator, in order to rate,” Hargreaves responded. 

Applications will be scored 1 to 5, with one being least recommended and five being most. Ratings will be tallied for each applicant after all are reviewed by committee selectors; applicants with the highest total scores will serve on the parking committee. 

“I’m being placed in the process to solve it when I don’t believe in the whole thing from the beginning,” Phillips added. “I don’t believe that there’s a problem to be solved. I don’t believe in the committee. So now you’re making me have to be part of the solution.”

“You are a council member and this is a community problem,” Hargreaves responded.

He asked Phillips to “park” his own bias and “listen to the recommendations that the committee makes,” per the responsibilities of leading local government.

Council agreed to change the wording on the surveys and do away with the first question. Instead, it opted to ask: “How often do you go to the beach?”

The suggestion was made by Mayor Shannon Phillips, who thought it was important to weed out applicants that don’t even frequent Sunset Beach. 

“If you go to the beach one time a year on July the Fourth, you can’t be objective on this thing,” the mayor said. 

The other question is: “What individual quality skills would you bring to this committee in order to help address the complicated topic of beach parking?”

Citizens interested in being a member of the parking committee have until March 24 to apply and return the application in a sealed envelope. The application may be printed from the town’s website here or by accessing a paper copy from town hall during business hours. 

Council voted to pursue an “Island Parking Study” last fall, with the goal to “improve parking conditions” for citizens on and off the island and annual visitors. Sunset Beach has a population of 4,200, which balloons to 15,000 each summer.

The town assessed public feedback last summer about monetizing just over 730 spaces. It had a parking proposal by Otto Connect at the time, the company which oversees programs in Oak Island, Topsail Beach and Holden Beach. Nothing has been signed or finalized by council; a parking committee must be composed first.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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