Over the last decade, Pinehurst has faced parking issues in and around its historic center.
The chief complaints: parking illegally along some streets and in yards, especially during special events such as parades and Live After Five, and a lack of spaces downtown.
Past efforts to deal with parking problems have seen little or no success. Plans for a parking deck near downtown were shelved nearly six years ago.
All of that has led council member Jack Farrell to propose a committee to study the problem.
“I am wading into waters that are difficult with the parking situation,” he told his fellow council members during a meeting last Tuesday. “Parking at various times and locations is an issue, parking related to village-sponsored events and resort activities … All of these seem to be bubbling.
“I don’t want to create a gigantic commission, but it’s time to get together some interested stakeholders to discuss it, scope out the problem.”
Farrell offered to develop a plan to put a group together that could brainstorm and propose solutions “to help the quality of life in the village”
Mayor Nancy Fiorillo declared that “an excellent idea.” She said the proposed budget for next year includes $200,000 to possibly acquire land in the village center for a parking lot or deck. That does not include construction costs.
She said in the meantime this study group could seek other ways to address parking.
Simply doing something would likely be welcome news for residents like Debbie Lalor who live in historic village center. Lalor addressed the council about parking Tuesday, saying the matter “has risen to the top of the pile.”
Lalor said a garage or lot is a good step but that it could take five or six years before anything is built.
“I think there are baby steps we can take in the meantime that would help your local residents and homeowners in the downtown feel like you are paying attention to them,” she said.
Lalor suggested that the village re-examine its municipal code to provide more clarity on what constitutes parking violations. That could aid police in enforcement. She also suggested increasing fines from $5 to $25 and better educating residents and visitors.
“I think a little negative reinforcement is needed,” she said. “We have allowed parking in the last five or six years to run amok. We have let the success of our events get out ahead of us. Our planning has not been what it should have been and we are now caught in a bad situation where people just are used to coming into town and parking wherever they want.
“I think the village needs to undertake a re-education campaign to let people know Pinehurst is going to start enforcing parking laws. We, the residents, are feeling the pain of this growth and success, and we’re observing that the village administration and council is not really paying attention and not really getting ahead of the problem.”
Lalor proposed that the village prohibit through-truck traffic on Carolina Vista. She said that in addition to the parking issues, the village needs to address the deterioration of some of the walking paths within the village center, commonly known as Old Town.
During the discussion, council member Judy Davis showed photos taken by Victoria Adkins, who lives on Carolina Vista, that illustrates some of the problems Lalor referenced. She told Farrell this would help “get some momentum going on this issue.”
Farrell agreed as he looked at the photos of vehicles parked in different areas, some illegally.
“This is a great example of the kind of thing that drives people crazy,” he said.
Farrell said more recently, there have been concerns about vehicles parking along Magnolia Road around the area of the Pinehurst Brewing Co. in the old steam plant, which has become a popular destination. He said several residents have put sticks in the ground to keep people from parking on their property.
“There will be a lot of stakeholders on this,” he said.
Downtown Solutions Lacking
In addition to problems with parking in yards and along streets, another conundrum for the village has been how to deal with issues in the business district. Over the years, the village has received complaints about the scarcity of spaces downtown. The main culprit, many have asserted, are business owners and their employees taking up prime spaces in front of their shops.
The village abandoned the practice of writing tickets to enforce a two-hour time limit in 2007 because few violators actually paid the $5 fine and it was not worth the effort to enforce.
A voluntary program called “Put the Customer First” fell by the wayside years ago. It designated areas for owners and employees to park. Some businesses adhere to that plan anyway.
Another plan proposed about five years ago called for the village to hire a part-time downtown parking “ambassador” to encourage businesses to have employees park in designated lots and have decals to denote those of business owners and employees. That never got off the ground.
The council was told back in February 2017 that the village was spending about $15,000 a year in police staffing to monitor parking and administrative staff time to process tickets. But the village could not keep most of the roughly $500 a year it collected in fines, because state law requires that 90 percent of the money go to the public schools.
One option would be to have volunteers with the Citizen Patrol program monitor parking, should the village decide to reinstitute parking time limits. But there would still be some expense on the administrative side in the finance department to process tickets.
The village investigated other possible solutions two years ago, such as technology called “The Barnacle.” It is plastic device with two large suction cups placed on the windshield of the car. A small pump locks the suction cups in place so they cannot be removed. If the person attempts to drive off, an alarm is set off.
The violator is given a telephone number to call to pay the fine and receive a code to deactivate and remove the device. They would have 24 hours to return it to a designated place, such as the police department.
But council members at the time felt that was “not very friendly.” The idea was dropped.
Village officials ultimately concluded that the business owners would have to find a way to resolve the problems.
Council member Kevin Drum, who owns a tavern in the village downtown area, said Pinehurst might need to look at issues other than just parking and “focus on the village center holistically.”
Fiorillo said she could see some merit in that approach.
“Maybe you start out with parking,” she said, “and you don’t know where it will lead.”