Monday, April 15, 2024

CB upping parking rates to $6 an hour in lots, $7 in ‘premium lots’ to cover off-season break

Directly north of Kure Beach, the town of Carolina Beach enforces paid parking from the beginning of March through the end of October. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Carolina Beach council raises some parking rates, particularly in lots, while reducing the paid parking season from March 1 to October 31. (Port City Daily/File)

CAROLINA BEACH — The Carolina Beach Town Council conceded on Wednesday night to pressure from locals to stop charging in the off-season. It also made other changes to its parking program, including increased rates in some places.

READ MORE: ‘Killed by parking’: CB residents, business owners implore town to change parking program

The beach town will charge for parking only from March 1 to October 31 in alignment with its Wrightsville and Kure beach neighbors. The move is a departure from charging in the off-season, which it has done to residents’ and business owners’ distaste since 2021. 

In the last few months, particularly at a packed town hall in December, many have spoken against how parking has been handled on the island, some saying it’s confusing as changes continuously are made season after season. For 2024, more have been put into place as well, though staff is requesting council commit to new changes for two years. 

Business owners reported at last month’s public input session financial deficits in the hundreds of thousands, attributed the loss in business due to Carolina Beach’s expensive and complicated parking system.

Several council members said they hoped the negative view of the town would begin to mend following new rules. Jay Healy called on business owners to start supporting the town and said town hall was not at fault for Carolina Beach’s bad reputation because it was not disseminating negative information, either in person or on social media.

“You’ve been asking for four months free for a long, long time … ball’s now in your court,” Healy said. “It is up to you on how you’re going to handle it.”

While council voted to do away with off-season parking, it raised rates in other areas and described the increase as a compromise to maintain its revenue stream. Parking proceeds make up around 10% of the town’s fund; it garnered $2.1 million in 2022, yet only $26,000 was from the off-season.

Its parking lots will increase from $5 to $6 an hour, but daily cost will remain $25. On-street parking will stay $5 per hour, though a daily rate will no longer be available.

The town is also looking to charge more for “premium lots,” or parking areas with more amenities, such as bathrooms and showers. The council passed staff’s suggested $7 per hour rate ($35 daily), though agreed to look at a market rate option. The lots would be chosen by the town manager in concurrence with council.

While staff did suggest implementing premium lots at the $7 rate, the $6 regular lot rate and elimination of on-street daily rates were not in its recommendations.

“We’ve got to make more money just to keep up with inflation,” Healy said. “Our bills need to be paid and need to come from somewhere. Parking is one of the few things we have that we can actually control.”

Council member Mike Hoffer pointed to Hamlet Beach Access as an example of a premium lot and advocated competing with the private lot beside the access, which charges $8 an hour. The council also decided to “potentially” charge year-round in these premium lots if the private lots are charging.

Town staff’s proposal — which it said needed to be approved immediately to allow time for implementation before March — suggested making up revenue also by charging an hour longer, through 9 p.m. Carolina Beach has charged until 10 p.m. past years, but council said it was changed to benefit the business community. While not unprecedented, the council was not in favor of extending its hours past 8 p.m.

At the request of residents, the council also voted to reduce violation fines from $100 to $60. However, drivers will only be charged $25 in instances where parking has been paid and a violation that does not cause access problems is present — for example, double parking or being a little late to the meter. Drivers can have the ticket reduced by 25% — instead of the current 50% — if paid within 48 hours.

The town will explore increasing two-hour parking spots to three hours, along with working with business owners to further educate the public on the parking program.

A notable absence in the passed plan is over-the-bridge passes, or parking passes for off-island New Hanover County residents. Several residents advocated the town bring them back to incentivize neighbors to spend money in the town, especially when tourism dies down in the off-season. The passes have been controversial in the past, though, over fears those residents would overwhelm the spots and leave none for Carolina Beach citizens. 

Mayor Lynn Barbee said he’s always been in favor of visitors paying for the services they use instead of putting the burden on town residents.

“You’re almost at a point now where you have to elect a new council if you want non-resident passes because we voted it down over and over and over again,” Barbee said. 

The town will begin work immediately to update signage, along with some maintenance, to take a little more than 30 days to full completion.

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