Residents' concerns hold up Carolina Beach boardwalk project

Star-News (Wilmington, NC), 2014-07-28

July 28 -- Carolina Beach's boardwalk revitalization project went out to bid Thursday, but an updated proposal won't go before the Coastal Resources Commission next week, town officials said.

"For some of the application, you submit drafts of the stipulated facts, and the legal staff review your proposals," said Jerry Haire , the town's project manager. "And then, it's a back-and-forth."

The boardwalk project, which includes spiffed-up seating areas, widened decks and a kid-friendly splash zone, has been in the works for about three years, following elimination of state funding for a related fishing pier and educational center downtown.

The $1.5-million project, funded by a mixture of grants from state and local sources, was originally expected to begin last November and conclude before this summer. But those dates were pushed back to allow town officials time to seek approval from the CRC on several aspects of the proposal that weren't in compliance with development regulations, including a plan to widen the wooden boardwalk from 8 to 16 feet. The new, larger structure would breach a 60-foot buffer zone between the developed boardwalk area and the ocean, a setback required under the Coastal Area Management Act.

Town officials took that proposal before the CRC in February. Staff members had recommended that the commission approve the request, noting that the benefits of the new boardwalk -- particularly the increased beach access for handicapped visitors -- were in keeping with the spirit of the regulations and the CRC's mission.

Commissioners in February agreed with the majority of those recommendations, but had concerns regarding one town resident's objections to the portion of the project that would extend the boardwalk from Harper Avenue to Pelican Lane . A.D. Averette , who lives in a single-family home in Carolina Beach's central business district, requested via letter that the town's request be rejected on the grounds that the proposed extension would create noise and increase foot traffic on private property.

Averette is one of 18 property owners who would be affected by the project, according to Mayor Dan Wilcox , and was the only resident who wrote the CRC opposing the extension. But the CRC sided with Averette in a 4-7 vote, saying that a property owner's rights should be taken into consideration if a public project will infringe on private land.

Since that meeting, other property owners -- including several dozen who own condos in Cabana De Mar, a 76-unit complex on Carolina Beach Avenue North -- have spoken against the proposed extension. Their concerns, according to a letter send to the Division of Coastal Management , range from safety and lighting issues to insurance and view obstruction.

"This project will severely affect property owners at the Cabana De Mar," wrote Michael Murphy , who owns two units in the building. "The width of the proposed boardwalk will increase foot, bike and skateboard traffic ... the need for increased security, possibly guards, locking gates, privacy fences, moving of current beach access ... which all needs to be paid for, and at (whose) expense?"

Town officials addressed some of those concerns in their updated variance request, lowering the height of extension by a foot to reduce impact on ocean views and reducing the width of the extension from 16 to 8 feet. That proposal will not go before the CRC until October, according to Haire, who wasn't sure if the town would have to start from scratch in the wake of opposition from the condo owners.

"I don't have a crystal ball," he said. "It's hard to say. But everything else in the project was approved, and that was a big deal for us."

To be safe, bids for the project include several scenarios that would allow construction to proceed even if the extension is denied. One bid package is a lump sum for the entire project, including the northern extension. The other two break the project into chunks, seeking separate bids for the revitalization and the extension. Haire expects to make a recommendation to the Town Council at its regular meeting Aug. 12 .

"That way we can move forward either way, depending on the CRC decision," Haire said. "The idea is that we can proceed in September no matter what."

Kate Elizabeth Queram : 343-2217

On Twitter : @kate_goes_bleu


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