Business Owners Upset With Cape Fear Project Schedule

Business Owners Upset With Cape Fear Project Schedule Featured

By / Local News / Wednesday, 24 September 2014 04:00

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CAROLINA BEACH - Businesses along Cape Fear Blvd will soon witness the start of a streetscape project to pave that road an install new sidewalks and landscaping. The Town Council will hold a meeting on September 30th, from 4 to 6PM to 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.
The Town of Carolina Beach will hold a workshop meeting on September 30th, from 4 to 6PM in the Council meeting room at Town Hall to review development projects taking place later this year in the downtown Central Business District. That includes a proposal to create a one-way traffic pattern on Cape Fear Blvd east of Lake Park Blvd.
According to Town officials the purpose of the meeting is 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."
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.
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."
The Town closed the road earlier this year prior to the summer season to install new underground utility lines for water and sewer.
She explained, "By starting construction in October 2014, our business not only lost 30% of our Q1 [first quarter] sales we will loose about 20%+/- of our Q4 [fourth quarter] sales.  This means we can loose 50% or more of our annual sales during 2014, which will make Artful Living Group go "belly up". If the construction is delayed until January, we will have a loss in Q1 2015, however, hopefully we can recoup it during the rest of the year."
She explained, "I urge you to think out of the box to find a solution. Can construction start on Canal Drive in October which does not impact any businesses during this time because parking would still be available for the boardwalk businesses as well as the businesses on Cape Fear.  Then start construction on Cape Fear in January."
Higgins explained the work earlier this year ran from February to April; a month longer than scheduled and caused them to lose 30% of their sales because people were unable to drive and sometimes even walk to their shop.
She explained, "Because of the severe loss, we asked the city not resume construction for the 2nd part of the repairs until the first of next year.  We depend on two selling seasons, Summer and Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays. In our discussions, I was assured you would do everything you could to avoid damaging our business again."
On Tuesday September 23, Mayor Dan Wilcox explained, "Essentially, we have a 4 month project. Can’t do it in the summer, late spring or early fall, which pretty much leaves early October for mobilization, and late October, November, December, January and early February to complete the work in order to be ready for spring and Easter. I’m looking forward to the discussion, but if we are going to make the improvements – people are going to be inconvenienced. We felt the best time for that was the winter months."
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 this 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.
Mayor Dan Wilcox said he thinks it's a good change and, "In my opinion I think we need to move forward with design drawings" and, "so that we can have a discussion with the business owners and property owners" within a short time frame between now and October 6th when the project is set to begin.
The streetscape will include wider sidewalks along Cape Fear. 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.
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.
Cramer explained, "Right now, for that project we are looking at having two concurrent crews on that job site. One doing the western side of Cape Fear and one doing the eastern side of Cape Fear at Lake Park. Could we split that up and do it a little bit slower, certainly. But both of those are currently planned to be completed by February. If we extend it we may very well run into cost overruns."
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth asked how much of the project would be in front of businesses in the area. Cramer said, "All of it."
Shuttleworth expressed concern about the limited amount of time to hold public meetings to get input on the change. He said the streetscape project in general took many months of public workshops to reach a final project. He said he wasn't against the one-way option and has previously expressed concerns about pedestrian safety and traffic during busy events.
Wilcox said he understands business owner concerns over disruption during the holiday season. Cramer said perhaps the Town could work on making accommodations to mitigate impact on business owners including signs directing customers to nearby alternate parking lots but at times the road will be closed entirely to through traffic.


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