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Signage, sidewalks part of bike path recommendation in Sunset Beach

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

SUNSET BEACH—Sharing the road, signage and sidewalks are part of a bike-path plan recommendation approved Feb. 5 by the town planning board.

Sunset Beach town administrator Gary Parker said streets on the island and mainland are not wide enough to safely accommodate a bike trail 3-5 feet wide.

“The only way we could do striping of a bike path on any of the town streets is to add pavement,” he said.

The estimated cost is $505,000.

But it would only cost about $280,000 to install “share the road” signs along town streets for experienced bicyclists to use and 5-foot-wide pedestrian sidewalks the entire length of Main Street on the island for recreational bicyclists to use, Parker said.

Board member Eddie Walters said sidewalks are a good alternative.

While the state has funding for enhancements such as bike-path widening, such money hasn’t been granted in the last two or three years, transportation consultant Don Eggert of the Cape Fear Council of Governments said. He doesn’t anticipate that will change with the current economic climate.

He said “plan B” is workable and prudent.

“I would take the more prudent approach money-wise now, because you can always build on that,” he said.

“It’s not really an ‘either’ choice,” Parker said. “We want to do both.”

He said they would get more bang for the buck by proceeding with plan B first.

Island resident Carol Scott questioned whether sidewalks on the island would achieve the effect of providing a safe route for bicyclists if pedestrians and strollers are using them as well.

Eggert said it would be an educational process.

“Sidewalks would be better than what the town has now,” he said, describing the lack of them as dangerous.

Landing I resident Sybil Kesterson, who was appointed by Sunset Beach Town Council on Feb. 2 to serve as ETJ representative on the planning board, said it’s illegal in some states to ride bicycles on sidewalks.

Parker said that law applies to downtown areas. Elsewhere, “I never once got a ticket, and police don’t enforce it,” he said.

If families are out riding bicycles and see a sidewalk, they’re going to use it, he said.

Richard Thorsen, owner Alley Oop surf shop, said children are safe on sidewalks. He said he has more of a problem with bicyclists using the island causeway, which clogs up.

Parker said that part of the road should tie in with bridge construction and widening and may benefit from signage and demarcation.

“I think we’re aware we’ve got to start somewhere,” board chairman Bill McDonald said. “I think we need to come up with a decision as to where do we want to start.”

“The biggest bang for the buck is the sidewalk with the economy the way it is,” board member Leon August said. “It’s the best, cheapest and most opportunity for everybody.”

Eggert said he would like the town’s recently appointed streetscape committee to stay together and meet periodically, “because this plan will change over time.”

REZONING DENIED

The board rejected Sheila McLamb’s request to rezone two parcels bordering N.C. 904 from MR-3 residential to MB-1 commercial. The property abuts the Sunset Ridge and Sea Village residential communities. A number of residents attended the meeting, several speaking out against the request.

McLamb said she has had three inquiries expressing interest in the site, from variety retail, product specialty retail and government services.

Board member Bob Perry deemed the request “spot zoning” that “smacks of favoritism.” He said he couldn’t make a decision without knowing what’s going to go in there.

Parker cautioned on a rezoning request, the board isn’t supposed to request specific usage. Anything that is allowed in a zone would be allowed, he said.

“Without that, I don’t see how I can justify changing the zone,” Perry said.

Walters said the town’s land use plan calls for not increasing the acreage of commercial zoning, the ratio for which has already been exceeded.

“It suggests this [request] may be moving in the wrong direction,” he said.

Resident Bob McMillan said he couldn’t see how something such as a convenience store would be an asset for the community.

“What would somebody like to put in there that would be an asset to the community?” he asked.

Fellow resident Harold Katzenberger said anything built there would add to traffic problems for people who bought into the residential communities.

McLamb said she could still do multi-family construction under present zoning.

“The issue is not what you’re going to do,” McDonald said. “The issue is zoning.”

Perry’s motion to defer the request was voted down by Walters, McDonald and board member Gene Allen. The board then unanimously approved Walters’ motion to deny the request on the basis it is not consistent with the town’s current and future land use plan.

“It’s not the best use of land on a major roadway such as 904,” Walters said.