Off-beach parking system leads discussion during Wrightsville Beach land use plan meeting

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With traffic, parking and infrastructure stability topping some of the concerns for Wrightsville Beach residents, several of the nearly four dozen town residents proposed creating a new system for beach parking during a public input meeting Thursday on a comprehensive future land use plan for the town.

After a breakout session where participants gathered in separate groups around tables of maps of Wrightsville Beach, three of the four groups proposed building a parking garage off the island that would ferry visitors to the beach.

The concept is one that Blockade Runner Beach Resort owner Mary Baggett, a participant in the meeting, has proposed before. But two other breakout groups also suggested the idea during the Thursday evening meeting at the Wrightsville Beach Holiday Inn, where residents were invited to come discuss ideas related to the town’s current efforts to update it CAMA Land Use Plan.

Conceptually, the town would construct a multi-level parking garage across the Trask Drawbridge, then run shuttles that would take visitors to the beach. This would come with an elimination of much of the town’s beachside parking, making the shuttle system the only way those not staying in a hotel or renting a house or condo could access the beach.

During the meeting, Baggett pointed out that Waynick Boulevard is also the last few miles of U.S. 74, a state highway, where parking shouldn’t be allowed. The parking spots could be replaced with a pedestrian-friendly boardwalk, she said. Some said the idea would bring in even more visitors and traffic, but Baggett said the parking plan would only work if the amount of beach parking was reduced in turn.

Though he didn’t speak at the meeting, Wrightsville Beach Mayor Bill Blair said he doubted that such a plan would produce the approximate $3 million in parking revenue that makes up a significant portion of the budget.

“We’d have to get the remaining money in increased property taxes for our residents. I don’t think that would go over well at all,” Blair told Lumina News after the meeting. “And what if there’s a storm? Is everyone going to try to crowd into Tower 7?”

The off-site parking plan was only one idea proposed, but it got most of the attention during the discussion of the breakout session. Other issues raised by residents included insurance rates tied to flood zones, ownership of the water and sewer system and preservation of commercial property. Several participants said the town should encourage development of the lot by Johnnie Mercer’s Pier and the abandoned Scotchman property on Salisbury Street.

The state’s Coastal Area Management Act, which applies to Wrightsville Beach, requires the town base its ordinances from a comprehensive land use plan. Dale Holland, principal of Holland Consulting Planners, the firm hired by the town to manage the plan’s rewrite process, said the breakout session was designed to encourage more participation from those that attended.

Meeting organizers broke up the 47 people who had signed in to gather around four tables, using colored markers to delineate ideas about zoning districts. Holland said by breaking into groups, and having each group designate a “spokesperson” to relay the ideas, it can encourage more participation, especially from people who wouldn’t normally speak publicly at a meeting.

Holland also said that the town has received only 198 responses to the public survey on the land use plan, which isn’t even 10 percent. The goal is to reach at least 20 percent, he said. The survey can be found online here: http://www.planwrightsvillebeach.com/home.html

The survey can also be filled out on paper at Wrightsville Beach town hall.

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