Council Raises Rates For Freeman Park Passes; More Changes Coming

Council Raises Rates For Freeman Park Passes; More Changes Coming

By / Local News / Wednesday, 15 October 2014 04:00

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH  - The Carolina Beach Town Council voted to raise fees for vehicle access to Freeman Park during their October 14th, meeting.
The Freeman Park Advisory Committee met September 18, 2014 and discussed annual and daily passes for 2015.
Currently the cost of the season pass is $100 from January 1 to December 31.    Discounted season permits may be purchased at $60 from December 1, to December 31. Daily passes may be purchased for $20 at the entrance of Freeman Park.  Seven-day passes are available for $50. Passes are sold for vehicle access to the park. Walking in is free.
The committee made three recommendations for the Town Council to consider.
Those include:
1. Recommend that Council consider changing the price of the annual access pass to $75.00 for the Early Purchase Special and that the passes only be sold between December 1st - 15th of 2014. Passes may only be purchased in person either at the Island Tackle and Hardware Store, Town Hall or the Parking Office.
2. Recommend that Council consider changing the price of the annual access pass to $150.00 for all purchases after December 15th, 2014. Passes may be purchased in person or online either at the Island Tackle and Hardware Store, Town Hall or the Parking Office.
3. Recommends that Council consider changing the price of Daily Passes to $30.00 per vehicle per day, eliminating the multi day passes, and creating a new rate for Holiday Weekends of $50.00 per vehicle per day.
Town Manager Michael Cramer supported the changes recommended by the Committee.
Council member Sarah Friede questioned the timing of making additional policy changes on items like camping overnight.
Councilman Gary Doetsch said, "I believe we will probably have a workshop to discuss the policy issues prior to printing anything that goes out."
Cramer said the next Council workshop will be on October 28th at 6PM and, "We would have those discussions regarding Freeman Park, the camping and some of the other items we talked about at the joint meeting. Those discussions and policy decisions would then go to the Freeman Park Committee. They would review them and bring a recommendation back to Council for making changes or implement whatever the policy direction was. At that point, we should be in good order to start selling those passes."
Town Attorney Noel Fox said, "I would just suggest that any passes sold be sold subject to the current ordinances or ordinances as amended or rules and regulations as dictated by Council."
Mayor Dan Wilcox said, "If we are going to make major changes in policy then it is only fair to make sure we are on tract to have those policy changes in place before people buy their tickets so they know what they are buying."
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said, "We had such good attendance at the Freeman Park joint meeting with the public. There was a fair amount of discussion in the public about raising the rates. As I remember there was as equally a great discussion regarding closing the gate, limiting the camping, implementing some kind of higher fines, and alcohol."
The Council voted unanimously to approve of the fee increases for the park. They will continue discussion about other issues such as limiting the number of people camping, litter, and other issues at their October 28th, meeting at 6PM.
A crowd of approximately 40 people attended a meeting Thursday September 18th to voice their opinions on management of Freeman Park at the North End of Carolina Beach. The Town Council and Freeman Park Committee held a joint meeting to hear public input. Topics included camping, traffic, alcohol consumption, litter and other issues.
Freeman Park, located beyond the end of Canal Drive on the Northern End of Pleasure Island, is largely outside of the Town's jurisdiction.
They have authority to manage the area as a park. That was granted to them by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners some years ago. There is a fee charged for vehicle access to drive on the beachfront within the park. The Town, by it's own admission, doesn't charge people to walk into the park. They can only charge for four-wheel drive vehicle access.
Betty Phelps, owner of the Carolina Beach Fishing Pier just south of the park said raising rates may help. She said, "I don't think there is another place you can go as a family and pay as cheap as you pay to go out on the North End. These are way, way to low. I think we would get less people coming down. More quality people coming down."
She said giving visitors trash bags at the gate would help with litter and having an officer at the gate will make people think twice because an authority figure is present. She said, "We have come a long ways and are very fortunate to have it and I think we should start taking care of it." She said compared to hotel rooms and campgrounds in general, being able to take a family to the park to camp for $20 a day is extremely cheap.
Mayor Dan Wilcox said limiting the number of people in the park is a daunting task. He said, "People say don't let anymore people in the park; cut it off at a certain point in time. Then where do you put that line of traffic that's coming in from Raleigh... where do all of those vehicles go? The people already in the park. The man, wife and kids are setup, he wants to leave and go get some ice from the store and can't get back in. Talk about a traffic problem, cutting it off at the gate most likely is going to create a concrete parking lot."
Councilman Shuttleworth said he wanted to hear input on restricting the number of campers, reservations and no alcohol.
The audience applauded when he mentioned restrictions on camping and a reservation system.
Local resident Robbie Johnson lives on Virginia Avenue in the area near the gate to Freeman Park. He explained, "I know a lot about that North End because I've been living there since 1973."
Johnson said one issue is traffic on Canal Drive causing extreme congestion blocking residential streets and holding residents hostage at times during the summer months. He explained, "If you don't live there... it's not pretty" and, "My daughter goes to school at the University of South Carolina, works at Britt's during the summer. She's trying to get home from work and couldn't get across Canal Drive to get on Virginia Avenue." He had to ride his bike to Canal to stop vehicles to allow her to drive across the road to get home.
He said the money generated from selling passes is obviously important to the Town, but something has to be done to limit the number of vehicles in the park. He said he believes the Town could still net $300,000 if they reduced the number of vehicles allowed in the park by some method because with a reduction of visitors, the expenses would also decrease.
Johnson said, "On busy weekends, it's a disgrace what's happening out there" in terms of litter and abuse of the park environment. He said designated camping spaces and holding people responsible for those areas would help with littering problems.
He said another problem is people parking in front of people's homes along area residential streets and walking or hitching a ride into the park leaving homeowners with cars lined up and down their streets.
Local resident Gina Benton said she would like to see a return to no camping and no fires within the park like it used to be years ago. A 31-year resident, she said people use to enjoy taking a day to visit the North End for fishing, swimming and hanging out with friends. She said, "I think limiting camping is not a big deal" because the Town already has zones marked within the park and could draw upon camping requirements used at the nearby Carolina Beach State Park which has a reservation system.
She said raising fees would help because Freeman Park is known around the region as a cheap place to come and party.

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