Limit on beach parking permits brings uncertainty to Jeep rentals

Published 3:20 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2022

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Currituck commissioners passed a text amendment limiting beach parking permits to 300 per week for day trippers from April 30 to October 1. Residents and vacationers in the 4×4 area will continue to have usual access. The amendment also requires an ATV permit to operate a UTV/side by side on the Currituck County off-road area.

The beach is still open to anyone who wishes to drive on it, but stopping to fish or play will be prohibited without a parking permit.

During public comment, before commissioners voted to approve the amendment, Outer Banks Jeep Rentals owner John Montgomery said that the proposed changes to 4×4 access will make it difficult for his business to remain profitable.

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“We need to plan. We need to purchase new vehicles. We need to sign our lease. We need to make other investments in order to be a viable business, and we’re not able to do that under the regulatory uncertainty that would be created by the proposed changes and the changes that you’ve indicated that you’re planning for next year,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery told The Coastland Times that while his company purchased passes for most of the Jeeps for this season, what he’s really worried about is next year. Commissioners have discussed adding additional restrictions in the future to reduce the number of vehicles on the beach, including permitting driving as well.

“You market Jeeps on the beach in your own marketing,” Montgomery said to commissioners. When you go to what you see is a Jeep driving on the beach . . . we provide that service to Currituck county visitors, but we need to be able to make a living if we’re going to continue to provide that service.”

He continued, “We think that we offer among the safest and most responsible ways that that people can access that beach. We provide vehicles that are not going to get stuck that are in good operating condition. We spend thousands and thousands of dollars a year to make sure that those Jeeps are in good working order,” he continued.

Tourism continued to be a topic of discussion in the meeting as commissioner Kitty Etheridge gave her monthly report, which included her recent attendance at the NC 365 Tourism Conference in Durham, a gathering that brings together leaders from the state travel industry and provides opportunities to gain expert insight on the latest trends.

“Why is tourism so important to NC and to Currituck County?” Etheridge asked. “Because for every dollar that’s spent in tourism there is a return of 32 cents for the citizens of North Carolina. Where I come from that’s a pretty good return on your investment,” she said.

“So with the tourism season starting to begin please remember to be welcoming to the tourists that come to our county because they do contribute to make it a wonderful life for us to live here in the county,” she continued.

Next, commissioners heard the YMCA annual report from Dean Mattix, district vice president for YMCA of South Hampton Roads including Currituck County YMCA. According to Mattix, YMCA of South Hampton Roads lost $20 million from the COVID-19 pandemic.

New executive director DJ Kophazy presented a steady recovery for the Currituck Y, stating that membership units which saw a low of 860 units (from 1400 units pre-COVID-19) is back up to 1201 units. “People love this Y. It’s a beautiful facility. The investment that was made is compared to no other Y I’ve ever been in across this country – and I’ve been to Ys in Houston, DC, Jersey, Pennsylvania – it’s just the most beautiful Y I’ve ever been to,” Kophazy said.

Based on community input, the YMCA is extending exercise classes and pool hours. There are now 45-50 classes per week, many of which are in the evening hours.

Vice-Chairman Paul Beaumont spoke up about the very limited access to the gymnasium during summer camps and the limited access to the pool because of a lack of personnel. Kophazy responded and said the YMCA is aware of the concerns and plans to expand the gym and pool hours for general members this year compared to prior years.

In new business, McRee recommended the consulting firm PFAL to determine the suitability and feasibility of a public-private partnership for construction of a wastewater treatment plant replacing the county’s Moyock wastewater facility.

During the analysis, the county determined that a 300,000 gallon system is needed rather than the 200,000 gallon system originally planned, at a county cost estimate of $16.8 million for the 300,000 gallon system.

“The analysis is to provide us guidance as to what form/legal language needs to be included in the agreement,” Beaumont said.

The consulting comes at an expense to the county of $176,198, which gave some commissioners pause.

“The price tag is shocking but . . . we have put faith in our county manager and our staff and I believe that they’ve gone through these [other applicants]. I don’t think that we’re going to find a better group to help us go through this process that is uncharted for the county,” said commissioner Selina Jarvis.

The proposal was approved, with Beaumont opposed, citing an interest in seeing other pricing information from the other bidders: “We were provided the recommended company and their price. To me, I have an obligation to review the whole package,” he said.

Commissioners moved through the rest of the agenda quickly, approving a resolution supporting enactment of H.R. 1154 to study the feasibility of creating The Great Dismal Swamp National Heritage Area, and approving 11 appointments to various boards throughout the county.