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Back You are here: Home News Local and State News Local Carolina Beach Mayor Addresses Boardwalk Project Meeting Process; Some Business Owners Upset

Carolina Beach Mayor Addresses Boardwalk Project Meeting Process; Some Business Owners Upset

Managing Editor

CAROLINA BEACH - The Town of Carolina Beach recently obtained a $500,000 grant from the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners to help fund a $1.5 million dollar project to make improvements to the aging wooden oceanfront boardwalk in the Central Business District.
The plan is to replace the entire 750-foot structure with a new 16 foot wide Boardwalk with all new beach accesses.
In addition, the plan includes extending the Boardwalk 875-feet north to the Pelican Lane Public Access, the previous site for NC Aquarium Pier and Access Park.
Interim Town Manager Ed Parvin explained earlier this month, "We are also discussing a possible future phase to extend south to Hamlet Ave. The Boardwalk Improvement Project is included in our adopted Bicycle Multi-Use Transportation Plan and the Wilmington-New Hanover County Comprehensive Greenway Plan. We are now ready to make the plans a reality and provide our citizens and visitors with a safer, more attractive boardwalk with much improved beach access and a variety of amenities."
Parvin explained, "The new wider structure design will be handicapped accessible and provide ample access and circulation space for the thousands of visitors we receive each year. Plentiful seating areas, swings, wind sail shaded gazebos, unique water tunnels, vortexes, misters and other "cool – off" features are included in this oceanfront linear park design to make the Boardwalk an inviting destination point for all ages. The landscaped coves between the Boardwalk and sidewalk will be redesigned to include a splash pad park, public art, historical and environmental educational kiosks, shaded seating and picnic facilities and open space for music, art and other cultural events and passive recreational use."
Parvin said the extension north to Pelican Lane would link to the Town's sidewalk and Bike Route system and provide a one mile walking and biking loop connecting the beach and Boardwalk with the Carolina Beach Marina, shopping, restaurants and all of the central business district amenities.
Essentially providing improved pedestrian access throughout the downtown area connecting major areas for easier access.
He explained, "The Boardwalk Improvement Project encompasses a full slate of public benefits including improved beach access, a variety of recreational, cultural and educational amenities and alternative transportation that will serve as an economic stimulus generator for the Town and region."
He explained, "With New Hanover County as a partner Carolina Beach’s likelihood of success and ability to enhance other investments in New Hanover County greatly increases.  Efforts by Carolina Beach to promote commerce benefits all the local governments – but especially the" county.
Parvin said the County receives 73% of the local sales tax and Carolina Beach less than 2%. The pay back to the County even without allocating additional sales tax that could derive from a multiplier of increased retail sales is less than five years. He said, "The County is paid back regardless."
On Monday August 26th, Mayor Bob Lewis wrote a letter to the Gazette thanking supporters who attended the County Commissioners meeting to show their support for the $500,000 grant to, "provide the last piece of the funding puzzle to restore the Carolina Beach Boardwalk to the destination it once was."
Lewis explained, "We followed a proven corporate business approach in which we developed a concept, vetted the idea a bit, created a strategy to secure funding through grants from the state and the county and we will now begin to finalize the plans and present them to the public in a hearing in September."
He explained, "To gain support and to develop a concept we formed a 20-person committee to discuss conceptual designs and ideas. The committee included members from the Pleasure Island Chamber, The Island Women, The Surfriders Foundation, The CDBI, a boardwalk business owner, a marina business owner, a couple members of the Island Men, The Turtle Project,  the Parks and Rec Committee and a number of community residents."
He explained, "All meetings were advertised and open to the public as well and all to date were well attended.  When we started the committee we had just secured our first grant, a $250,000 water resources grant.  Within a month we secured our CAMA grant of $603,000 so we had over $850,000 along with $350,000 of matching money in the town's Room Occupancy Tax reserves at the county.  (The Room Occupancy Tax Reserves were used to provide matching funds for the Kure Beach Ocean Park and boardwalk.)"
Those ROT revenues are collected from guests staying at hotels, motels and short-term vacation rentals. Each year the remainder of those funds not spent on tourism related expenditures is held in a reserve. That reserve has accumulated $350,000 over the years.
Lewis explained, "The close relationships many of us on the board have developed
with members of the county commissioners opened up the opportunity for us to move our proposal forward and gain approval of the final $500.000 in grant money."
Lewis explained, "In my mind we were just asking for the state and county to share a bit of our own income and property taxes back with our community to help improve our quality of life and to provide economic development in the form of new jobs."
 Lewis explained, "We now have an opportunity to develop a final design and plan and conduct a public hearing so we can include all the stakeholders in the plan."
He explained, "Of course when one has success it creates jealous detractors and we certainly have those including the former Mayor who just last year quit his office and went home.  At the last hour after many of us spent months in meetings, crafting positioning papers and creating a winning strategy, Mr. Rothrock took upon himself to send an email to every commissioner and mentioning he had talked to numerous people in the community who did not support the council and our request and he wanted the commissioners to deny our request."
He explained, "Fortunately for the residents of Carolina Beach, the commissioners disregarded the statements of the former Mayor because they felt he was just someone who is disgruntled and as one said someone who seemed more interested in sabotaging this wonderful project than representing the residents of Carolina Beach.  Other detractors (many of who do not live here) have stated we do not have the "Right People" on our boardwalk committee. I am confused about that statement because everyone on the boardwalk revitalization committee is a resident, most if not all are property owners and a number are also business owners and we have some non-resident who states they are not the "RIGHT PEOPLE"."   
He explained, "Contrary to reports by those who would see the project delayed or derailed CAMA (Coastal Management) is also working with our staff and our council to provide us with a minor permit within the next couple weeks so we can begin construction on time.  One has to wonder about the detractors and their motives because what we are talking about is replacing an existing wooden structure much like a deck and expanding and upgrading the structure. Residential property owners and local construction companies do these types of projects everyday in our community including over the dunes."  
Lewis explained, "Council will be working on contacting as many of the business and property owners in the CBD and boardwalk over the next couple weeks to explain the proposal and get their input.  Everyone I have contacted are truly excited and supportive of the entire project."
Dava Villapiano, owner of the Silver Dollar Restaurant and Bar on the Boardwalk, responded to Lewis on his Facebook page Tuesday August 27th on behalf of the Carolina Beach Downtown Initiative (CBDI).
CBDI - formerly the Boardwalk Makerover Group - began six years ago as an effort to bring business owners and the Town together with a strong volunteer base to make improvements to the Boardwalk area and organize events to help promote a family-oriented atmosphere and bring people back to the area.
She explained, "Bob, since you have blocked CBDI team leaders and some CBDI members from seeing (and therefore responding to) your post, I am responding on behalf of CBDI regarding your recent posting regarding the makeup of the new boardwalk committee, where you say that a CBDI member is serving on the new Boardwalk Committee."
Villapiano explained, "That statement is 100% false, as I’m sure you know that no one from CBDI was invited to serve on the committee. Miles did serve on the CBDI Team for a short time, but left that position prior to you forming this committee. So while we appreciate Miles’s volunteer work, as a short term member of our team, not only was he not a member when you formed this committee, he would not be the most qualified or “boardwalk knowledgeable” person to represent CBDI’s interests on the committee, had we been asked."
She explained, "While I don’t know of any CBDI member that is not in support of the proposed improvements, we would like to have been included in the process, and were not. As a long-term boardwalk property owner and an original member of CBDI/BWM, I would like to have been invited, or at least some effort made to directly notify us of the meetings and project details."
She explained, "When members of CBDI heard this board had been appointed (after no advertisement to the public) we assumed that with our six years of knowledge working events and interacting with visitors and their needs that one or two of our key members would have been a valuable addition to the committee. Instead, not only did you bypass CBDI involvement, as your “boardwalk owner representative” you select the person that has operated a business at the boardwalk for the least amount of time. To many, it sure seems like an attempt to completely bypass the people that have worked the hardest to make our boardwalk successful, a tactic we don’t understand."
Villapiano explained, "Regardless of your reason for excluding key boardwalk individuals, we would appreciate being directly notified of any futures meetings, and unless you are willing to add one of our team members to the committee, I also think it would be appropriate to stop advertising that one of our members is serving the committee."
Lewis responded, " Miles Belgic is" and, "The meetings have been posted and are open to the public. The CBDI members you mention are not my friends and this is my personal facebook page. I see Miles every week in CBDI garb and that looks like a member of CBDI. So who is a member I have never been given a list. I know the people getting paid at the boardwalk like Dan [Wilcox] might be a member. So do you want me to ask him? You are all invited to chip in."
Wilcox is challenging Lewis in the race for Mayor this November.
Villapiano explained, "Miles is not currently on CBDI and although he did serve with us for a short time, he resigned before your group formed. Also, since he only joined us this past year, he did not have the history or experience which may have been beneficial to your group."
She explained, "Miles certainly is a valued volunteer, he is not on the lead group."
Lewis explained, "The boardwalk committee was open to anyone to join no one got an engraved invitation. People just volunteered. No one was left off I assumed Miles would represent the CBDI. You could of come to the past meetings and you can come out to the one next week. I will make sure you are invited."
A meeting of the Boardwalk Committee was scheduled Tuesday August 27th. A notice was sent out via email from Town Hall. The meeting will be held Thursday, September 5th at 5:30 pm in the Town Council Chambers at Town Hall. Discussion items will include updates on plan development, general design, project funding and schedule.
Mayor Lewis reached out to Boardwalk business and property owner Duke Hagestrom on August 25th via email. He wrote, "Can I meet with you in the next couple days to show you the concept drawings and give you an overview of the boardwalk revitalization plan.  Dan is concerned none of the real business stakeholders have been involved or given any information as yet. I am personally going to meet with the business owners this week."
According to the Town, two meeting notices were sent out via email to the public regarding Boardwalk Committee meetings earlier this year.
The committee was formed at the Council's May 14th, meeting. The Town sent out a meeting notice via their email list on May 23rd for a May 29th meeting at 5:30. The next meeting notice was for a June 5th meeting and it was sent out June 4th. Both meetings were held at Town Hall. The committee members include David Cole, Fred Grady, Deb LeCompte, Linda Flannigan, Marcia Russell, Ethan Crouch, Jeff Allen, Lisa Hagan, Miles Beliec, one Parks and Recreation Department employee, one Parks and Recreation Committee member, Town Project Manager Jerry Haire and Mayor Lewis.
Lecompt and Grady said there were four meetings held in total.
A memo sent to the committee members on May 17, by Town Project Manager Jerry Haire explained, "Thank you for volunteering to serve on the Boardwalk Improvement Committee. We look forward to everyone’s ideas and insights in this exciting project. Our goal is to refine and complete the draft concept plan (attached) developed by our renowned architect Greg Reynolds. Once complete we will present the plan to Town Council for final approval and proceed with permitting and construction this summer."
Haire wrote, "We’ve designed the process to be fun and interesting, but we are on a very tight time line. The Town has been successful in getting approval from State to transfer grant funds from the now defunct Aquarium Pier and Access Park Project to the Boardwalk Improvement Project. However, the first round of these funds must be used by October 1, so it is critical that we complete our process as quickly as possible – 2 to 3 meetings lasting 2 hours each. To this end we’re asking that you spend some homework time preparing for our meetings and present your ideas and comments as succinctly as possible."
Haire explained, "I’ve attached some background and historical information on Boardwalks in America and The Carolina Beach Boardwalk, as well as some links below to some “Best Boardwalks” web sites to help with ideas for our project. Please do some surfing for ideas on your own, and bring notes and/or copies of designs, amenities and ideas you feel are a fit for our Boardwalk. Also, please spend some time thinking about your vision for the Boardwalk. What makes it work and what will make it better? What’s the atmosphere and sense of place we’re trying to create? What can we do to make the Boardwalk a popular destination not only during the summer but in the shoulder seasons as well? Thanks again for your time and interest."
Interim Town Manager Ed Parvin explained on Monday August 26, the Town met with state officials the prior Thursday about obtaining Division of Coastal Management permits for the project.
Parvin said state officials recommended the project be split into two phases. The first phase to start prior to the end of October in order to use a Water Resources grant. He said a minor CAMA permit will be required to grade the cove areas, plant vegetation and rebuild the beach access walkways crossing from the concrete walkways over to the beach. That includes rebuilding the beach stage and adding another access way for that stage. Also, working on utilities including lights, water and sewer and other underground utilities.
Parvin said, "Then we need to ask for another permit that will get denied and we will have to get a variance for. The second minor permit is basically for the actual boardwalk. Completing the rebuilding of the boardwalk" that runs north to south. That includes extending that boardwalk north to the Pelican Lane beach access.
Parvin said the variance is required because current coastal regulations only permit beach access walkways. The boardwalk walkway is a unique request. That will require the Town requesting a variance from the Coastal Resources Commission.