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Town of Carolina Beach candidates on parking, environmental issues

Note: Mayoral candidate Chad Kirk and town council candidate Danny McLaughlin are not featured in this article because they did not attend the WHQR/WECT/PCD forum on Tuesday, October 17, 2023.
Images are from the NHC Board of Elections Facebook page.
Note: Mayoral candidate Chad Kirk and Town Council candidate Danny McLaughlin are not featured in this article because they did not attend the WHQR/WECT/PCD forum on Tuesday, October 17, 2023.

There are four mayoral candidates for the Town of Carolina Beach — and three candidates running for two open town council seats. WHQR, along with its media partners WECT and Port City Daily, recently held a forum with the candidates, asking them about their priorities for the town.

One of the main topics discussed was the availability of parking in the town. Last year, the council made the decision to enforce parking fees from March through December.

Deb LeCompte is a current town council member. She was appointed to the seat two years ago when Lynn Barbee left the council to become mayor.

“I'm not opposed to looking for new revenue sources, but the town is limited on what we can collect revenue on, and parking and Freeman Park being two of those sources. We talked about doing December for free when we did our Parking Committee, but at the time, we didn't have the numbers for December. So I think we can always tweak things and make them better. I just don't know what that answer would be right now, because we don't know what the numbers show,” LeCompte said.

Michelle Alberda is a mayoral candidate. She serves on the Carolina Beach Business and Economic Development Committee and owns a financial planning practice.

She said she doesn’t agree with the way the town weighed its parking options.

“I would say the first decision that was made was in the workshop, not at a council meeting. And it was a very quick decision. Being a workshop, we weren't able to ask questions. [...] Changing a parking company is a big decision and understanding all the fees and costs associated is very important. My understanding is also that not all of the parking companies were – that they had conversations with all the parking companies,” Alberda said.

Tyler McDowell, who is also running for mayor, said his family has lived in Carolina Beach since the 60s. He said parking was the “biggest complaint of the year.”

“So over time, I'm going to evaluate that and figure out some loopholes to figure out how we could match the income from the parking to lowering it a little bit to make it more affordable for some families to come to Carolina Beach,” McDowell said.

At the forum, an audience question directed at incumbent Mayor Lynn Barbee asked whether the town would reconsider its decision to charge for parking in the offseason, wondering if those funds could be recouped through access fees for Freeman Park.

“When you start mixing those revenue streams, so what we're saying is, is a visitor who is visiting the downtown business district would get a price break, but a fisherman who is going to Freeman Park, he's going to cover that cost. So we're transferring the cost from this user to this user; I would not generally be in favor of that. I think the user fee as best you can should be targeted to the user of that service,” Barbee said.

Jay Healy is an incumbent council member. He’s also served as mayor pro-tem.

Another audience question directed toward Healy asked about the town building parking decks.

“They are extremely expensive; the town cannot afford it. It would have to be a private entity that would come in. A parking deck ranges between $20,000 and $25,000 a spot. So it's very expensive. Where do you put it? I mean, we would have to give up our lot in return for a parking deck because we really don't have a lot of land to give up. If you talk to the residents, most people do not want a parking deck because it's an eyesore,” Healy said.

But mayoral candidate Alberda responded to Healy on this point.

“One of my concerns is that somebody else might build a parking garage first, and so that's something I would like to explore, as we review parking all the time, right, tweaking it, I would like to look into a parking garage. And I think you can build them now in ways that make them not as unattractive. You just have to be creative,” she said.

Other discussion points for these candidates were how best to protect the beach — and the patrons who use it.

LeCompte is the former chair of the Planning and Zoning Committee and the current chair of the Police Advisory Committee.

She said she’s looking forward to continuing the work of establishing beach rangers.

“Right now they're ambassadors, and they're trying to move forward with that. They will be certified police officers, so they'll have a lot more reach than a lifeguard can as far as public safety on our beaches,” LeCompte said.

As for the future of Freeman Park, Barbee said now that the town owns the park, they have to involve constituents with its future.

“By purchasing the park that allows us to put sand on the park. I think in 2025 when the Army Corps does its next inlet crossing project, that will help with the use. But right now, I think we have to finish the process first, then involve the citizens and figure out how they want to use the park,” he said.

McDowell said if he’s if he’s elected mayor, he’ll work to preserve what natural areas are already protected.

“And when it comes to wetland protection, just make sure everything is in place so that nothing gets disturbed because it reduces flooding. That is a fantastic thing for Carolina Beach,” McDowell said.

For incumbent council member Healy, flooding on Canal Drive is a major issue. Researchers from NC State and UNC Chapel Hill are studying how the town can improve conditions when storms hit during king tides.

“So we used to have a Canal Drive Committee, and their research is very similar to what they came up with. And what they found out is if we had bulkheads that went all the way down at four feet two inches, we would have three king tides a year. You raise out another six inches; you have one king tide a year. You can't stop it. What makes that statement difficult, is we can't see everybody getting a bulkhead because we have a lot of people that don't even live in Carolina Beach; they live out of town in New York or whatever. And they don't want to invest $40,000 to $60,000 in the bulkhead, so it is a challenge,” Healy said.

NOAA's information on solutions to reduce flooding. Bulkhead pictured right.
NOAA's information on solutions to reduce flooding. Bulkhead pictured right.

The candidates also discussed the town’s long-term infrastructure plan, a 20-year plan that outlines a cost of over $70 million to improve its water storage capacity and other stormwater projects.

Two candidates didn’t show up to the forum — mayoral candidate Chad Kirk and council candidate Danny McLaughlin.

To hear more about what the candidates said at this forum, watch the full video below.

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR