South Bethany looks to increase parking fees, reduce free parking

Paid parking can cause consternation for motorists. But for municipalities, it’s a tool to manage crowding and earn some income.

South Bethany still has roads that do not require parking permits in the summer. With Route 1 splitting the town in half geographically, on the ocean side, the eastern blocks have always required permits. On the quieter western side, it’s been years since any permit was required — until now.

The South Bethany Town Council recently voted to create permit zones on the west side of Route 1. Now, parking permits will be required in the first 250 feet of every western road adjacent to Route 1. (This will be fully implemented after the Town researches and installs proper signage.)

“We’re the only town from Dewey Beach to Fenwick Island that doesn’t require a permit on the west side of town,” said Council Member Tim Saxton. “My goal is to try and get us a little more aligned with neighboring towns.”

Beach traffic is only expected to increase, as thousands of new homes are being approved in nearby developments. And while South Bethany is providing a lot of free parking, council members said they also want to ensure residents themselves have adequate access to their local beach. (The beach is publically owned, which means the Town must provide fair access, in both parking and crossovers.)

“I’m not trying to solve a problem today. I’m trying to solve a problem tomorrow,” Saxton said.

Councilman Frank Weisgerber said he already sees heavy parking near Anchorage Canal, although he said he doesn’t know if that’s out-of-towners or just west-side residents from the Cat Hill neighborhood.

People “living on the west side use the back roads a lot,” said Weisgerber of the rapidly growing developments nearby. “We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg, and these people gotta go somewhere.”

“Right now, people are parking for free on the bay side, because they don’t have to have a permit,” said Police Chief Troy Crowson, adding that he believes Ocean Drive spots will become more coveted when western permits are required. After all, drivers are less inclined to walk across the highway if the parking cost is the same as along the oceanfront.

The council also approved price increases for this year’s parking permits. Property owners can purchase up to four seasonal permits at $20 each. (Replacements cost $50 each, for any reason.) Daily parking passes cost $20 each for anyone. Permits are required during certain hours and certain locations, from May 15 to Sept. 15.

There is no fee for contractors.

Permits can be purchased in person at town hall. (The town council is still debating whether to continue allowing weekend permit sales at the police station, since financial auditors recommended keeping all monetary transactions in town hall.)

The majority of council members voted to invest nearly $8,000 in a parking kiosk and an online permit system, although neither is ready for installation and use. Town hall staff still have research to do before the summer season. They’re investigating an outdoor parking kiosk for town hall, where people could buy daily passes and, it is hoped, their household seasonal passes.

When implemented, the new online system would help part-time residents who may not be in town during regular business hours at town hall.

Voicing many concerns, Council Members Sue Callaway and Carol Stevenson voted against the kiosk expense. For example, they said, only about 100 daily parking permits were issued last summer, and with such a low number, “I didn’t feel we have a big enough audience to spend $8,000,” Callaway said.

Additionally, there were still questions about permitting numbers, maintenance responsibilities, software upgrades and kiosk capability, such as whether it could handle household seasonal passes for everyone else. Even after the vote, Mayor Pat Voveris noted that she felt under-informed on the topic.

Town staff have been directed to take their time in researching the council’s subsequent questions, even if that means the new kiosk and website sales aren’t ready for this 2018 summer season.

The town council also debated whether a kiosk would eliminate the need for a weekend staff assistant at town hall or the police department, but Crowson argued that the administrative assistant helps with paperwork so police officers can spend more time patrolling.

Budget discussions will continue at 2 p.m. on March 22. The budget will be finalized in April.