Oak Island is one step closer to canning free spring parking

Oak Island is preparing to implement a paid parking system for the first time. (Port City Daily/File photo).

OAK ISLAND — “There’s still too much to sort out,” Oak Island Councilman Bill Craft told his colleagues at Tuesday’s meeting. “I need to know a few details.”

The council met five times to discuss issues with its potential paid parking scheme. Among them: right-of-way parking, the number of spaces and a pass program. Craft’s biggest objection remained with a tiered pass option in the program’s draft proposal.

READ MORE: ‘Time to review paid parking’ at Oak Island, golf carts also in trouble

The council agreed – although no formal vote took place – to include what they call a “flexible plan”. City staff will draft a request for proposal, based on council’s suggestions during the three-month discussions that have been underway regarding the program. Potential parking sellers will be able to apply in the coming months.

If all falls apart in navigating the contentious issue, a rule change on paid parking could come early next year.

Oak Island is currently offering residents $10 decals that allow them to park in designated spaces across town. The Board debated whether to continue this practice or move to a different approach, such as an annual pass.

On Tuesday, council members Mark Martin and Sheila Bell shared an idea to create a “flexible plan” where all options discussed could be included.

“I think it would be beneficial to open up a range of options for residents to choose their own destiny,” Martin said at the meeting.

He proposed keeping spaces reserved for pass holders and adding an annual pass option to allow residents to park wherever they want. No pass would be required, leaving the hourly rate option to those who choose it. The program would most likely be enforced via license plates, eliminating the need for municipal stickers.

The Council also discussed the potential expansion of the placeholders it offers, currently less than 200 for Oak Island’s population of over 8,000.

At the public hearing, a resident argued for a scheme including residents-only beach access points – council did not rule the option out.

“I’m willing to pay more for it,” resident Glenn Baker said.

At the special council meeting on Oct. 4, Bell cautioned against offering too many reserved spaces for residents because it prevents the parking program from generating money. Bell said it was in favor of a reduced cost for residents.

“That was the last time,” she said at that meeting, referring to when a previous council considered a scheme in 2019. The council voted not to adopt paid parking that year. , citing a lack of due diligence.

The small seaside town picked up the conversation and potential development of a paid system in July. The council could vote on the draft request for proposals – which will be sent to parking vendors – at its next meeting, scheduled for November 8. Going forward, the board plans to work out the details and select a parking officer by January.

The only detail currently on the checklist is the start date of the paid parking season: April 1 to September 30. Application time, fare, number and type of seats, and pass details remain pending.

Mayor Pro Tem John Bach said the council would work out the details as it receives feedback from suppliers.

“We want to judge our thinking against what they think is practical,” he told the meeting.

Since he broached the subject, council held a public hearing on September 6 and stakeholders were divided on the issue.

Proponents of the parking scheme say the revenue could be used to fund city maintenance and other improvements — costs that would be borne not just by residents, but also by visitors. The opposition cites that current parking violations are not already enforced and that paid parking will only punish residents.

“People will get very resourceful if you tell them you have to pay to park,” resident Gerald Edwards told the hearing.

He said the responsibility to enforce the rules is not limited to the city; local business owners should also check their parking lots, in case beachgoers attempt to park in free lots to enjoy a day on the shore.

One benefit the council has prioritized is tracking short-term rentals through parking permits. Edwards said requiring permits for renters would place an undue burden on them, many of whom are already paying thousands of dollars to vacation on Oak Island.

However, as City Attorney Brian Edes clarified, Oak Island likely would not be able to require a separate permit for short-term rentals by Shroeder versus the City of Wilmington. The 2022 case ruled against city-mandated registration requirements for short-term rentals.

Resident Kelly Smith countered the council’s reasoning to implement parking as a way to financially cover needed services for the city, namely its $20 million beach renovation project. She noted that the city would have to seek approval from the state legislature to use the revenue for any purpose other than compensating for parking lot maintenance. However, Wrightsville Beach and other municipalities in New Hanover County are exempt from this requirement.

“Will paid parking fees pay for anything else?” she asked the council during the public hearing. “If not, what is the purpose? »

The two most controversial aspects of the move to paid parking are resident-only spaces and right-of-way parking – or parking on the side of the street. This usually happens in residential areas, where no space is demarcated.

This last problem is a predominant problem in almost all beach towns. Carolina Beach, in the process of fine-tuning its current schedule, debated how to manage its ROW parking lot, which is frequently overrun with beachgoers seeking respite in paid spaces.

Oak Island tries to avoid this consequence without requiring residents and business owners to sacrifice the use of nearby rights-of-way.

“Ending parking in the right-of-way would fundamentally change the way I do business and could put me out of business,” Mariah Brazil, owner of cleaning company A Clean Break, said at the September 6 public hearing. . She explained that her employees regularly use the right-of-way at work, which is only monitored when drivers pose a safety hazard.

Council’s current position is to restrict parking on the right-of-way during enforcement hours, which is yet to be determined. The chosen parking officer would be tasked with patrolling south of Oak Island Drive, a lot primarily dedicated to businesses and beach access. north of Oak Island Drive would not apply; exceptions to the application would be granted for service vehicles.

After the city backed away from a paid parking decision three years ago, Bach’s position is that now is the time to make the plan a reality.

“We cannot continue to postpone these decisions, projecting them into the future,” he said during the September 6 public hearing.

Contact reporter Brenna Flanagan at [email protected]

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