Council Discusses Freeman Park Changes For 2020 Season

Council Discusses Freeman Park Changes For 2020 Season

Council Discusses Freeman Park Changes For 2020 Season Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 23 October 2019 00:14

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Town Council discussed changes to rules for Freeman Park during their October 22nd, workshop meeting.

Freeman Park, located beyond the end of Canal Drive in Carolina Beach has been a popular destination for four wheel drive enthusiasts for many years. The Town of Carolina Beach manages the area as a park and charges for vehicle access and camping permits. The cost for the 2019 annual vehicle permit is $200 per vehicle. Daily passes are $40. Daily holiday passes are $60. Camping is permitted for a charge of $30 per night and reservations are required.

The changes proposed by Interim Town Manager Ed Parvin concern vehicle access fees, hours of operation and restricting camping to the off-season months. Another option proposed is to ban alcohol consumption within the park.

Freeman Park is largely outside of the Town's jurisdiction. The Town owns the first 1,000 feet beyond of the end of Canal Drive. After that, parcels are privately owned. Private properties west of the front of the dune line are considered private  while any portion of a property located east of the front of the dune line is open to public use under State Law as a public-trust area. That includes the dry sand beach east to the high water mark. The wet sand beach belongs to the State of North Carolina. The Town has authority to manage the public-trust beach 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 beach front within the park. The Town doesn't charge people a fee to walk into the park. They can only charge for four-wheel drive vehicle access. The Town has the authority under State Law to “regulate, restrict and prohibit” vehicles driving on the dry sand beach within the public-trust area.

Parvin explained, "We are at that point in the season where we need to get rules in place so we can go ahead and start planning and [printing] passes, whatever we need to do for Freeman Park."

He said Town staff have met with Lanier Parking - the company that manages the entrance to the park - and members of the Park Committee and came up with proposed changes.

Parvin said, "The first one is a big one, which is going to just a daily pass. Off-season sales, we would change that to $20 in the off-season and then if you want to camp, $50 in the off-season. In season, we would not have camping  and it would be $40 per day and for holidays we actually reduced that cost from $60 down to $50."

Earlier this year the Town had to close a large portion of the park due to tidal erosion creating a narrow area that vehicles could not traverse. The Town set a limit on the number of vehicles that could enter the park which led to complaints from people that purchased annual passes.

Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said, "We had a substantial increase in this year's budget projected revenues. Part of the problem that I have... understanding is we deal with a fiscal year which is July 1st through June 31st but we deal on an annual pass which is January 1st through December 31st" and, "We upped the budget this year to $1.9 million dollars in projected revenue for the 19-20 budget. So we are half way through that year. We've completed the majority of the summer season. What will happen is in December we [sell] the early bird annual passes. In December, January and February we sell the rest of the season passes and that generates a big chunk of revenue. We need to see a month over month comparison like you did before. How did we finish the season since we started making the changes and we lost opportunity to open the park. We had already sold the annual passes. We had some day pass changes. I'm trying to get a handle on what's our impact going to be on that $1.9 million. Are we going to get  a million, lose $1.2?"

Shuttleworth said the Town has decreased expenses at the park such as reducing the number of portable toilets, the amount of trash the Town did not have to pick up due to closing areas of the park and, "I really need to understand the income and expense projections because everyone says you're going to lose $1.9 million in revenue. We are not going to lose all the revenue. Our cost go down and it's not been pure revenue. We have huge expenses related to Freeman Park. We closed the gap this year. Instead of taking money out of savings, on paper we closed the gap by increasing our Freeman Park revenue. So bringing those down to a realistic number so the Council understands where the impacts to our budgets are going to be is important for me to be able to make a decision."

He said the annual pass is important for people that visit the park on a regular basis and being charged $40 per day will quickly add up verses the current cost of an annual pass. He stated, "They are coming out to watch the sunset or a two hour walk. To gig them $40 every time. We have to keep some affordability in there."

Council member Leann Pierce said she doesn't agree with eliminating annual passes stating, "That's not going to work. And have you done any proactive things like poll the public and say would you buy it again. Everybody I've asked has said yes I would. Why wouldn't you sell the annual passes which is where the majority of our revenue comes from and then limit the day passes as needed."

Shuttleworth said placing a disclaimer on the annual pass stating that closures may be required throughout the season due to erosion alerts people at the point of purchase.

Parvin also proposed limiting camping to the off-season months - October 1 – March 31 - and to delineate an area on the beach where camping can occur. Camp fires would also be limited to off-season months.

He said the need to close the park at times earlier this summer resulted in camping reservation cancellations. Limiting camping and camp fires to the off-season would help protect the sand dunes and would allow the park to accommodate more beach patrons in the summer without designated camping during the summer season.
Parvin explained another option is to limit hours of operation for the park. For in-season (April 1 – September 30) hours for vehicles could be 6:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. During the off-season  (October 1 – March 31) access would be allowed 24 hours a day.

Parvin said another option is to prohibit the consumption of alcohol by changing the rules in the park to match the long standing prohibition on the beach strand within the Town's corporate limits.

Shuttleworth said, "Personally, I think we should have a standard policy from one end of Carolina Beach to the other on the beach strand" and, "I would love to hear from the public, the police and the Council, but I would be in favor of saying we have one rule on the sand. It's the same where ever you are on Pleasure Island from Kure Beach  north. Kure Beach has the same rule don't they?"

Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach both prohibit alcohol use on the beach.

Pierce asked Parvin to keep the option of selling annual passes.

The Council will hold public hearings on November 13th at 6pm at Town Hall and if needed, a second hearing on November 19th at 6pm.

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