By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton supervisors held a public hearing Tuesday night on a controversial proposed ordinance that would require anyone who uses a county boat ramp to have a parking decal on his or her vehicle or boat trailer.
“I’ve gotten more calls and more complaints about this than anything I think I’ve done since I’ve been a supervisor for three and a half years,” said Supervisor John Coker. “And it’s really because nobody understands it.”
Accomack has adopted a similar ordinance to discourage overuse of the county boat ramps by out-of-state residents.
Supervisor Betsy Mapp clarified that commercial fishermen from Maryland were using Accomack’s boat ramps and parking there is limited.
If Northampton adopts a similar ordinance, it could enter a reciprocal agreement with Accomack, allowing boaters who have a parking decal from either county to use boat ramps in both counties.
Coker supported the proposed ordinance because it would benefit Northampton County citizens whose taxes pay for the boat ramps.
Anyone who pays Northampton County property taxes would get a free decal for his or her vehicle. Only visitors would have to pay for parking.
“But we need to be really clear” about how to get a decal and where to place it, Coker said.
Watermen also would benefit from a reciprocal agreement between Accomack and Northampton, because the watermen could work in both counties without needing two permits, he noted.
“This is a good thing for our citizens, OK? We’re not trying to throw people out, we’re just trying to make sure” the taxpayers paying for the boat ramps can access them.
During the public hearing, Darlene Burton criticized the proposed ordinance for being “not well thought-out,” with no real plan to enforce it.
“One of our major industries is tourism, so we want to bring people into Northampton County to increase the tax base, to encourage people to move here, so … I don’t support it,” she said.
Matthew Cornish, of Cheriton, said he is “adamantly opposed” to the ordinance.
He enjoys the outdoors, and when friends from out of the area visit, he likes to take them to the docks and show them around the Eastern Shore. They should not be penalized simply for enjoying the view, he said.
David Kabler submitted a written comment stating, “the fact that the boat ramps are free for use of the public is a welcome gesture that reaps dividends in economic development,” and “the good will of a simple gesture of hospitality goes a long way.”
He asked what would be next – parking meters at the courthouse in Eastville or at the beach in Cape Charles?
Supervisor Dave Fauber also opposed the ordinance and said it would be a “real turn-off for people who come here.”
He doesn’t want Northampton County to become like Virginia Beach. “Every time you go somewhere, you’ve got to pay to put your boat in the water, you’ve got to pay to park your car … it’s just a real hassle, and I would really hate to see Northampton County start down that path.”
Coker agreed some parts of the proposed ordinance did not consider people who visit Northampton’s public boating facilities just to birdwatch or fish off the pier.
Supervisor Betsy Mapp asked what would happen if people visited on a weekend and couldn’t go boating because they couldn’t purchase a parking permit. They will “walk away with a sour attitude toward us,” she said.
County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski noted there could be a self-service option to obtain a parking permit, possibly over the phone using a credit or debit card.
But supervisors agreed they should wait and see how Accomack’s ordinance works out before deciding if Northampton should follow suit.
Mapp made a motion to table the matter, which was seconded and passed unanimously.