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'We made a mistake’: Oak Island Town Council apologizes after rushing, then reversing, paid parking program

Updated: Mar. 6, 2019 at 6:22 AM EST
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OAK ISLAND, NC (WECT) - About 130 people packed Oak Island Town Hall on Tuesday night for a special meeting with most in attendance to discuss the debate over whether the town should implement paid parking by the beach.

The discussion about parking in Oak Island did not result in a vote or a decision Tuesday night, but residents shared perspectives with town council.

When asked by a show of hands, about half of the audience expressed support for a paid parking program while the other half did not support charging for beachside parking.

Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Winecoff began the parking discussion by apologizing for the council’s quick decision and then reversal.

“You’re taught growing up, if you make a mistake, you apologize, so we rushed trying to get this parking in before summer, and we made a mistake," said Winecoff. "I apologize to the citizens of Oak Island because it should be our job to make sure we do it the right way.”

Days after selecting NC Parking to run Oak Island’s paid parking program for the town’s 1,100 spots, the board rescinded the offer after illegal drug charges came to light by one of the company leaders.

“He told us, and he told the people in the audience, that he got arrested for cocaine," Winecoff said. “That’s a biggie for us because we know the drug problems down here in Brunswick County, and we felt that was not a good match for us so we rescinded that offer.”

The council then discussed the need for parking reform in Oak Island, not only paid versus free parking, but also the issue of street-side parking.

Oak Island ordinance allows right-of-way parking for up to 72 hours.

Winecoff said the recent fire at the Ocean Crest Motel could have been even worse had the inferno happened during the daytime and in the summer, when streets are often packed with cars beside the road.

“The safety of the town is the most important thing," Winecoff said. “If that fire would have happened during the day, during the middle of summer, a lot of these streets you cannot get down because the traffic parked on both sides of them would prohibit fire trucks, ambulances getting through. It would have taken longer for our rescue to get through there.”

About 15 members of the public then spoke to the council and room at large about their perspectives regarding parking in Oak Island.

Those in favor of implementing paid parking soon said they felt tourists should help pay for beach renourishment and other projects.

“I think the idea is good as long as we can collect the money from day trippers, and for it to not be for residents and taxpayers to have to pay," said Bettie Thorne, an Oak Island resident of 23 years. "We need the help for the beach renourishment. We do. Day trippers, God love them, but they don’t pay any money to enjoy what we are paying to maintain.”

Those opposed voiced concerns that not enough information has been provided. Residents were concerned only 200 of the island’s 1,100 parking spots are allotted for residents, and they would have to pay for parking if all the resident spots are filled.

“I am against paid parking. The beach is free, parking should be free," said one resident.

A business owner on the island worried paid parking would drive tourists away when neighboring beach communities have free parking.

Other residents took a measured approach, supporting paid parking with certain restrictions like seasonal limits, special accommodations made for residents, and a guarantee the revenue would go to beach enhancement projects.

Council member John Bach emphasized the town cannot ignore the growing population and problems that parking pose, emphasizing the town must take action soon.

In 2020, Oak Island is facing a $20-40 million beach renourishment project, said council.

Council voted to approve a resolution opposing a state bill that would mandate county Alcoholic Beverage Control boards to merge into one. The measure would also privatize ABC sales.

Oak Island’s resolution says these actions would take control away from local municipalities and negatively impact the town’s revenues from ABC store sales.

“Local revenue from ABC stores operations is important to the Town of Oak Island,” the resolution reads. “The Town of Oak Island desires to retain North Carolina’s current control system for the sale of liquor and believes that privatizaion of liquor will lead to many adverse events.”

Senate Bill 87, titled ABC Law Modernization/PED Study, would also allow ABC stores to operate on Sunday.

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