Business Owners And Town Officials Discuss Cape Fear Blvd Project

Business Owners And Town Officials Discuss Cape Fear Blvd Project Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 01 October 2014 04:00

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CAROLINA BEACH - Residents and business owners attended a workshop at Carolina Beach Town Hall on September 30th, to learn more about an upcoming streetscape project on Cape Fear Blvd in the downtown area.
Businesses along Cape Fear Blvd will soon witness the start of a streetscape project to pave that road an install new sidewalks and landscaping.
Business owners are concerned about the scheduling of the project and how it will impact the ability for customers to park and access their buildings. The Town Council will consider changing the project to implement a new one-way traffic pattern on Cape Fear Blvd east of Lake Park Blvd leading to Harper Avenue.
Regardless of the decision on one or two-way traffic patterns, the work will impact pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the area throughout the holiday season. That has business owners concerned with the potential loss of holiday customer traffic at a time when business is slow during the off-season. Holidays pay the bills and keep the lights on for those small business owners and their employees.
According to Town officials the purpose of the meeting was to review the timelines for the upcoming Boardwalk redevelopment project to replace and extend the aging wooden oceanfront boardwalk as well as infrastructure work planned in the area. Also, "the streetscape design on Cape Fear Blvd, Canal Drive and Harper Avenue." According to a notice for the meeting issued by the Town September 14th, "While these are wonderful improvements for our community, related construction activity along Cape Fear Blvd and Canal Drive will be considerable during this fall and winter, and at times, disruptive. Open communications with residents and property/business owners will help us avoid unnecessary disruptions and inconveniences."
Gil DuBois - Public Utilities and Capital Projects Director - said the streetscape project will begin sometime around October 10th and is scheduled for completion by February of 2015. The project will improve underground utilities including stormwater drainage. New sidewalks will be wider with additional landscaping areas. The road will be paved once the work is completed.
The project will take place at the same time another project gets underway to improve the existing wooden Boardwalk along the downtown oceanfront during the off-season months.
The Town closed the road earlier this year prior to the summer season to install new underground utility lines for water and sewer.
The Council gave direction during their Tuesday September 9th, meeting to Town Manager Michael Cramer to move forward with obtaining plans for redesigning Cape Fear Blvd east of Lake Park Blvd, as one-way traffic pattern ultimately connecting to Harper Avenue.
Cape Fear Blvd on the west side of Lake Park Blvd would remain a two-way street with a center turn lane. A streetscape project is already scheduled under contract to begin in October leaving little time to hold public meetings and reach out to local business owners for input.
According to Assistant Town Manager Ed Parvin, "Carolina Beach has continued to research and review the flow of traffic in the Central Business District (CBD). Conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles are of particular concern when events occur downtown."
Events that commonly generate traffic and pedestrian conflicts include fireworks displays and other pedestrian oriented events.
Parvin explained, "To resolve this issue the Town typically does some form of modification to the traffic flow on Cape Fear and Canal Drive south of Harper. In some instances this has worked well but the temporary changes often still lead to confusion and potential safety issues. Under consideration in 2010 was a redesign of the area to be one way from the intersection of Cape Fear and Lake Park.
The Wilmington MPO Engineers did review the idea in 2010 and made positive recommendations. The one-way pattern would continue to the corner of Canal and Harper. This design would reduce the traffic lanes down to one and create enhanced pedestrian facilities on both Cape Fear and Canal."
The recommended changes would require amending the Town's current contract with State Utility Contractors for the ongoing Phase 1A Utility project. That project replaced aging water and sewer lines on Cape Fear Blvd east of Lake Park Blvd earlier this year. Work will begin in October to complete the streetscape portion of that project in that area and is set to be complete by February. The modification to the streetscape plan is estimated to cost an additional $15,000.00.
Town Manager Michael Cramer said Town staff has had conversations with businesses owners in the Cape Fear Blvd area about the upcoming project. In addition to making Cape Fear Blvd one-way on the east side of Lake Park Blvd, the streetscape project will also make improvements to Cape Fear Blvd on the west side of Lake Park.
The Town will have to crews working on Cape Fear Blvd at the same time. One crew on the portion between Lake Park Blvd and the Boardwalk. The other  crew will work on the portion west of Lake Park Blvd.
Chris Higgins of the Artful Living Group on Cape Fear Blvd explained to Council earlier this month, "I was told that one reason for starting the construction in October that it would take 4 months to complete; therefore, would NOT impact businesses for May. If construction really is only 4 months, then starting in January would have the project completed in April.  The reality is the boardwalk businesses will be minimally impacted since many of the businesses don't open until late May.  Whereas the construction not only takes away parking, it also obstructs access to our shop and we stay open year around."
She said performing the work during the holiday season would severely impact her business which depends on that holiday traffic to make it through the off-season months.
At the September 30th, meeting Higgins and co-owner Mo Linquist met with Town officials and leaders on the project schedule and proposal for one-way traffic flow.
Gil DuBois assured Higgins the Town and contractor will work with area businesses to make sure parking and access is still available during the project.
DuBois said work in front of Artful Living Group's building would only take a short time to complete. During the time the road is closed, DuBois said the Town could erect signs directing their customers to access a Town parking area off Raleigh Avenue behind the building and park in a grass lot adjacent to their business.
DuBois said they would try to work around peak holiday times when replacing sidewalks in that area.
The owners of Sea Merchant's Grocery Store on Cape Fear Blvd attended the meeting with concerns about the project interrupting their year round business.
DuBois said he would sit down with the owners in the near future to work out the specific details. He said the contractor is willing to do the project in phases starting around January 1st, in order to not cut off access to the store entirely during the project.
For example, when replacing the sidewalk in front of the store, patrons will be able to park in the store's parking lot and enter through the existing side door. Once that work is completed, the sidewalk in front of the parking lot would be closed for a time and patrons could park in front of the store, or at nearby locations such as the library, and use the front door.
DuBois said the intent is to minimize impact on area businesses during the holiday season, but with any large project of this size, some businesses will be inconvenienced at times. The object is to lessen those impacts.
Several people commented on the proposal for one-way traffic on Cape Fear Blvd.
Higgins said a one-way pattern will only serve to frustrate drivers and have a negative impact because people will be caught in a loop circling several blocks in the downtown area trying to find parking spaces. Two-way traffic allows
easier access for the volume of traffic traveling in the Boardwalk area during the summer months. Compressing it into a single flow will have negative impacts.
The Town Council will discuss the one-way option at their upcoming October 14th, meeting at 6:30PM at Town Hall.


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