Carolina Beach is looking to add 70 parking spaces as part of a larger renovation plan

The city council plans to redevelop Harper Avenue, a goal the 2018 council also wanted, but never came to fruition. (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands Williams)

CAROLINA BEACH – More parking may be on the way to a “secret passage” in Carolina Beach as part of a revived streetscape plan.

The city council plans to redevelop Harper Avenue, a goal the 2018 council also wanted, but never came to fruition. Due to the financial impacts of Hurricane Florence that same year, as well as changes in the city’s leadership, the old guard decided it was best to recover by avoiding big expenses. The Harper Avenue streetscape was suspended in 2019.

Four years later, the new council is looking to resuscitate the idea and pondering how best to tackle the components of the plan, which include increased parking, a multi-use trail and improved stormwater.

Only one part of the streetscape was included in this year’s budget — the addition of 70 parking spaces from 3rd to 5th streets. The road embankment would be removed to make way for the angled points.

The new additions would be paid parking; right-of-way spaces currently along the road are excluded from the parking application. These spaces tend to fill up with visitors, even though they are located in residential areas, according to WHO?

During its workshop on Tuesday, the council agreed that it would not make sense to charge some and not others, but no consensus was reached to make all road parking enforceable.

Street parking runs March 1 through October 31 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at $5 per hour. For the month of November, the rate is $2 per hour from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Based on calculations where every space fills up daily, parking spaces would generate a maximum revenue of over $1 million for Carolina Beach.

The project was budgeted at $90,000 and construction would not begin until after Labor Day, according to City Manager Bruce Oakley.

The city has the option of starting work on this project now or waiting until all of the Harper Avenue improvements are funded. Council member Mike Hoffer seemed to favor the former.

“I think sometimes we get too caught up in the whole project that we hold ourselves back from making short-term improvements that might help us,” Hoffer said during the chat.

Other council members also spoke out in favor of moving forward with parking as a “temporary solution” to congestion issues along the avenue. Oakley told the Port City Daily that the new spaces could be phased out once the full plan is developed.

The merits of the project include relieving pressure on the city’s parking supply, particularly in the plazas that already line the sides of Harper Avenue. Council member Deb LeCompte said people already park illegally on the median when other options aren’t available.

“Using that as parking might be part of the design that we need to go back and look at,” she told the meeting.

The entire Harper Avenue streetscape would further enhance the mile-long connection between Dow Road and Lake Park Boulevard. Described as a “secret passage” by residents in 2018, the road was mainly used as a passage by locals.

As tourism has increased and businesses continue to diversify, more and more visitors have invaded the residential areas of Harper Avenue in search of parking. In the summer of 2018, the road hosted an average of 1,522 cars daily. No study has been done to verify if the traffic has increased since then.

In feedback sessions four years ago, residents expressed their desire to preserve the residential corridor instead of making the avenue a regional thoroughfare, while retaining residential parking.

In the spring of 2019, the council wanted to move forward with the plan in conjunction with its infrastructure repairs, which would replace 5,220 feet of water pipes under Harper Avenue and nearby roads. Improving stormwater retention at the Dow Road intersection and adding vegetation to soak up water were concerns that needed to be addressed during the 2018 discussions. City staff planned to bid on these projects under Phase C.

The renovation also includes improving the narrow sidewalk on the road and adding a multi-use lane to accommodate cyclists that often complicate congestion. The council discussed paving it with a different material than the road to increase its visibility.

The Lake Park Boulevard intersection would also undergo lane improvements to promote efficient traffic patterns and the construction would reduce the median recovered along the road from 19 feet to 10 feet long.

Council members discussed the effects the streetscape would have on residents. From the 3rd street, the district passes from a commercial sector to a more residential sector.

Councilman Hoffer claimed that beyond 3rd Street the roads were not desperate for improvement. Therefore, he would like to see funds allocated to the sources that need it the most – Dow Road congestion, for example.

Other important public and council considerations were to increase the greenery of the corridor and preserve its historic charm. The causeway was once the path of the Shoofly train, a caboose that transported beachgoers from the woods to the shore during the 1880s. As the city nears its centennial in 2025, Hoffer suggested commemorating the area’s past , possibly with a railway monument.

Mayor Lynn Barbee said he was struggling to form an opinion on the right way to proceed.

“What I struggle with are the historical aspects of this,” Barbee said. “I would like for Harper [Avenue] be something to be proud of when we’re done.

Contact reporter Brenna Flanagan at [email protected]

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