Scores of residents came to Tuesday’s Oak Island Town Council meeting to express displeasure with a staff proposal to charge $20 a year for resident-only parking at beach accesses and another $20 a year for hurricane re-entry stickers.
Town Manager David Kelly floated the idea at Council’s retreat last Thursday and members agreed to put it on the agenda for the regular meeting.
Several speakers asked Council to put the brakes on the proposal, back up, and try again - which is exactly what it decided to do.
The town discontinued re-entry stickers in 2013 and went with stickers that allow residents and property owners to use reserved parking spaces. Since then, the town charged $5 and the stickers were good for two years.
Lee Milburn Burke said she thought $20 was too much for resident parking. Dara Royal questioned why Council was considering “a 700-percent increase.”
“I’m not sure what problem you are trying to fix,” said resident Larry Krynski.
Ray Barkalow said he saw no reason to increase sticker prices unless the town was trying to discourage residents from purchasing them.
Christina Dooney suggested that resident and property
See Oak Island, page 9A
owner parking stickers should be free. Martha Slimick asked that volunteers who pick up trash and otherwise maintain beach access areas through the Beach Preservation Society be given consideration for free parking passes.
Council Member John Bach said he did not support the proposal but acknowledged that parking will always be an issue on the island. He said he found it unacceptable that the proposal on the table would charge emergency personnel responding after a hurricane to come to the island in their private vehicles.
Asking residents to pay for storm re-entry stickers and an unregulated system of storm re-entry are both wrong, Bach said. He said he asked staff to revise the plan and set a public hearing on the new proposal.
“We’re going to start over,” Bach said. “We do need re-entry and a parking system. We hear you, we do.” Council members Sheila Bell and Charlie Blalock said they agreed.
Kelly said it takes time to deal with parking issues and he wanted to get the question out front.
The town has more than 1,300 free parking spaces at or within a block from 67 beach accesses. One hundred twenty-two are currently reserved for residents and property owners ($50 fine for violations). In a memorandum to Council, Kelly stated that the goal was to increase resident/property owner spaces to 200 and use revenue from the stickers to help maintain access areas.
Council also agreed to lower the off-season speed limit for West Dolphin Drive from 45 to 35 mph. The limit is 35 in the tourist season. Several speakers said the change would increase safety and make it legal for owners of low-speed vehicles (golf carts) to access the western beach areas.
Golf carts are not allowed to travel along streets with speed limits higher than 35, although they may cross over them. In the winter, the speed limit for Beach Drive, the only other major road paralleling the shore, goes to 45, so golf carts have been effectively shut out of the western side of the island.
Matt McLean of S. Preston Douglas and Associates briefly reviewed the fiscal 2019 audit. He noted the town’s unrestricted fund balance was $12.2-million, about 70-percent of total government general fund expenditures for the year. He said the town was “in a good spot, in my opinion.”
In other business, council:
• Thanked Joe Stanton for his service to the ABC Board.
• Continued the process for voluntary annexations of two areas. One is a boat repair and storage business off Long Beach Road. The other will provide access to N.C. 211 for apartments at Pine Forest.
• Agreed to ask staff to work with the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board for amendments to the unified development ordinance that would require new developments to set aside open space for parks and recreation.
• Agreed to spend up to $15,000 for a business plan for the pier complex.
• Decided to have an outside firm conduct a cyber security audit of the town.
• Mayor Ken Thomas said he would hold his monthly open meeting on Tuesday, February 18 at 6 p.m. at the Recreation Center.