A Lewes committee tasked with analyzing the parking situation at the beach areas is unanimously in favor of adding a parking permit system for the summer months.
The recommendation will be part of a package sent to mayor and city council for consideration as early as its February meeting.
Beach Parking Committee member and beach resident Khalil Saliba presented a fleshed-out plan Jan. 14 that would apply to the residential streets between Savannah Road and Roosevelt Inlet. It’s unclear if the Roosevelt Inlet parking lot would be included. The committee may include all or some of his suggestions when it finalizes its report prior to the Jan. 31 deadline.
In the plan, Saliba suggests that parking permits be made available to all residents within Lewes city limits. Whether there is a cost associated with permits is open for discussion, he said. Additional permits would be available for visitors and day-trippers on a first-come, first-served basis until a set limit is reached, he recommended.
“The policy would prioritize residential parking for Lewes residents who are more likely to be courteous, safe and have access to bathroom facilities within reasonable proximity,” he said.
In recent years, he said, there have been several documented cases of visitors parking in residents’ driveways or on their property, other people using outdoor showers at homes they’re not renting or visiting, and some people leaving trash on the street when they depart. Other members of the community have complained about people going to the bathroom in the dune area because the nearest public bathroom facilities are either at the public parking lot on Savannah Road or at Roosevelt Inlet.
Under the proposed plan, Saliba recommends parking permits be in effect from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Memorial Day to Labor Day, in order to provide free access to the beach for morning walks or gathering later in the day. It would also spread out times when the beach is used, he said.
“A permit policy would eliminate the free rider incentive for beachgoers [using] free parking on our small residential streets as opposed to paying in the parking lots,” he said.
Another benefit Saliba references in his proposal is improved public safety because there will be fewer people searching for parking. Adding an enforcement element, he said, would deter people from illegally parking, which is a notable issue now, he said.
Pointing to the city’s recent decision to ban certain landscaping equipment due to harmful impacts on the environment, Saliba said a permit system would likely result in fewer vehicles driving up and down every street looking for a space, adding to exhaust emissions in the process.
Committee member Linda Rathmanner supports the permit idea because Lewes and its surrounding areas are changing. She said more than 1,000 housing units have been approved in the Lewes area alone, and many of those people who live just outside city limits will be coming to Lewes Beach in the summer.
“I think the parking permit idea is probably a good one,” she said. “There’s going to be an awful lot of people coming down here soon. I don’t know what Lewes is going to look like in five years.”
Councilman Tim Ritzert said many of the new homes Rathmanner referenced will be built in Lewes or annexed in the near future. White’s Pond Meadow received preliminary approval for 86 homes off Freeman Highway. Tower Hill, which has a pre-annexation agreement with the city, recently broke ground on its 292-home community on New Road.
Committee member Kevin McGuiness agreed a permit system is the way to go.
“If we’re trying to accommodate day-trippers and so on while the city is adding homes by the hundreds, I think it just demonstrates that we have to do something, and that’s why I think a permit system makes sense,” he said.
If mayor and city council chooses to institute a parking permit program, members of the committee agree legal parking spaces must be clearly marked. That leads to many other questions, which may have to be tackled by a new committee charged solely with developing a permit program.
One key issue that may influence mayor and city council’s decision on permits is beach capacity. The beach parking committee is set to dig into that issue at its next meeting Tuesday, Jan. 19, but it was briefly discussed during the Jan. 14 meeting.
Beach committee member Dennis Reardon said the beach continues to shrink every year, significantly decreasing the amount of space available for people to recreate on the sands.
Limited capacity is one of the main reasons why the beach parking committee did not recommend expansion of public parking lots on Savannah Road and Cape Henlopen Drive. Reardon said it was determined the beach and bathroom facilities could not handle any more people than the amount that exists currently. The impact on the environment from removing natural dune areas was also a factor, he said.
In addition to addressing beach capacity at its Jan. 19 meeting, the committee may also discuss clustering mailboxes, bicycle racks and trash cans at beach entrances, the policy for no-parking signage and placement, and parking enforcement. A link to the meeting, set for 4 p.m., can be found on the agenda at lewes.civicweb.net.