Currituck approves beach parking permits
By William F. West
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
CURRITUCK — As expected, Currituck commissioners approved for a second time Monday a change to the county's ordinance that requires most non-residents to purchase a beach parking permit during vacation season.
Commissioner Bob White led a 5-1 vote to approve the new parking permit system, with Commissioner Mike Hall casting the lone “no” vote. The new system, expected to take effect on May 1, is designed to slow down the large number of "day-trippers" commissioners claim visit the county’s northern beaches during the height of tourist season.
Hall, who also voted against the parking permits last month, said he believes the county is moving in the right direction but wants to delay imposing any fees until May 2019. Hall’s “no” vote last month is the reason commissioners had to conduct a second vote on the ordinance change Monday.
Under the new system, Currituck property owners and those whose vehicles are registered in the county are exempt from any fees to park on the county’s northern beaches. They will, however, have to obtain a permit from the county to park on the beaches. County residents living north of the North Beach Ramp also will be able to obtain two free parking permits for their guests.
The parking permit system applies to beach areas between a mile and a half north of the North Beach Ramp at Milepost 13 and Albatross Lane at Milepost 17. It will go into effect the Friday before Memorial Day and continue until 11:59 p.m. on Labor Day.
County Attorney Ike McRee advised commissioners Monday the change to the ordinance they approved doesn't include details such as permit fees and where to purchase them.
County Manager Dan Scanlon said county staff, with input from the Currituck Sheriff's Office, has been working on a general administrative procedure for the permit system since commissioners' annual retreat in late January. During the retreat, commissioners said they wanted to set a $50 fee for a 10-day parking permit and a $150 fee for a year-round permit.
Scanlon told commissioners county staff plan to present a master schedule outlining proposed fees for the parking permits. He said the county should offer the flexibility for purchasers to buy parking permits for either one day, five days and 10 days.
"We'll be bringing you something soon to have it in place before May 1," Scanlon said.
Scnalon also said the permits will be available at both county welcome centers in Corolla and Moyock as well as online.
Speaking in defense of the parking permits, White, whose district includes the Currituck Outer Banks, reiterated that safety concerns are the No. 1 reason driving the proposal. He also rebutted comments by citizens earlier in the meeting that the permit system and fees would have a negative impact on businesses in Corolla.
White claimed that on a recent weekend, a four-wheel drive club with between 50 and 70 vehicles visited Currituck’s northern beaches and not one stopped at any local businesses near the off-road area. In fact, White said the club’s members were clogging up a tire re-inflation area set up for off-roaders near N.C. Highway 12.
"Those kinds of things are exactly what we're taking about," White said. "These roads are our roads. This is how I get home every day — and if we don't get control over the amount of traffic that is up there, we've got a very real problem."
White also rebutted earlier speakers’ claims about parked cars not posing a risk to beach-goers. He said his concern is about motorists who just drive through the off-road area.
"If we can deter some of that, then that's a good thing for our visitors that have paid to be here," he said.
White also defended the county against the suggestion that, instead of a permit and fee system, it instead hand out driving passes to visitors. A speaker had suggested the county set up a gate at the end of the paved road and station someone there to collect fees from motorists.
White said gating the off-road area would lead to a heavy backup at the beach entry point. He also noted real estate and home-service vehicles constantly go in and out of the off-road area.
Commissioner Paul Beaumont said the board didn't consider the permitting system in a vacuum, but rather was asked by Carova Beach residents to adopt one.
"The concern is when kids who ... cannot see anything else other their parents and the ocean and are completely oblivious to the vehicles going up and down the beach," Beaumont said. "That's who we're trying to protect — our visitors, our guests and our residents."
Prior to voting to approve the beach parking permits, commissioners heard from more than half-a-dozen speakers.
One speaker was Lawrence Mason, a Navy sailor who lives in Chesapeake, Virginia, and is a member of multiple off-road vehicle organizations. He said one of the key draws for him and others to Currituck’s off-road area is it’s the only one still free to use.
He said while he's not fully opposed to the idea of a parking pass system for visitors, he thinks “there should be more planning and consideration put into this process before creating policy."
“If the price of an annual pass were less than that at the (Cape Hatteras) National Seashore, many of us returning out-of-towners would likely purchase it," he said. "And for those that may not be interested in an annual pass, a day pass for a set fee, such as $10, seems reasonable.
"Making those that are only visiting for a day or a weekend buy a 10-day or a year-long pass doesn't seem to quite make sense."
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, according to its website, charges $50 for a 10-day off-road vehicle permit and $120 for an annual permit.
Paul Gilbert, representing the Virginia 4-Wheel Drive Association, urged commissioners to take their time before implementing the permit system.
"If it has to wait a year to pass, this is a far better decision than throwing out a rushed ordinance that, for a lack of better words, has more gray areas than a black-and-white television," Gilbert said.