By Stefanie Jackson – Cape Charles hit a bump in the road when the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) rejected the town’s initial proposal to convert Mason Avenue’s back-in parking to pull-in parking, but there’s still a chance for the project to be approved, Town Manager John Hozey said Wednesday.
Cape Charles converted parallel parking to back-in or reverse-angle parking on Mason Avenue in 2015 to maximize the parking area and accommodate a growing number of tourists who visit the little beach town every summer.
But few tourists who visited Cape Charles were familiar with reverse-angle parking. Some who attempted to pull into back-in parking spaces were ticketed by police, causing so much frustration and anger that a few tourists vowed publicly never to return to Cape Charles.
A group of Cape Charles citizens have campaigned to “reverse the reverse” angled parking since then, but it’s been a long road.
VDOT initially rejected pull-in parking on Mason Avenue for the same reason it approved reverse-angle parking in 2015: VDOT’s studies show that reverse-angle parking is safer.
But Cape Charles isn’t giving up, and the town has hired a consultant to work with VDOT to get an exception allowing the pull-in parking.
Factors that support the safety and appropriateness of pull-in parking on Mason Avenue include its low speed limit (25 mph) and light traffic, Hozey said.
Furthermore, the back-in parking spaces are on a 45-degree angle, but the pull-in parking spaces would be on a less sharp, 60-degree angle, he added.
VDOT could still approve Cape Charles’ pull-in parking design, but “we’re losing our window” of opportunity to hire a contractor and get the pavement on Mason Avenue repainted before summer returns, Hozey said.
A Cape Charles Town Council member is researching an issue that impacts not just Cape Charles but the entire Eastern Shore: affordable housing.
Councilman Paul Grossman reported at the Nov. 18 Town Council meeting that he had attended the Virginia Governor’s Housing Conference in Norfolk earlier that month.
“It’s very difficult for a very rural place, for us, to draw in housing,” he said.
One of Grossman’s key takeaways from the conference was that many housing developers and financiers gravitate to the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, which “forces a certain affordability limit” and creates difficulty for towns like Cape Charles to support workforce housing – affordable housing for middle-income workers.
LIHTC subsidizes the acquisition and rehabilitation or construction of affordable rental housing for low- and moderate-income tenants. The program is attractive to housing investors because they can claim the tax credit for 10 years after the housing project is complete and the tenants move in.
Housing investors will qualify for the tax credit if one of three income tests are met – for example, at least 20% of the housing units built for the project are occupied by tenants earning 50% or less of the median area income.
Grossman also was concerned that there was “low participation” in the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission’s regional housing study.
Only about 340 residents and 16 business owners in Accomack and Northampton completed a housing needs survey, and around two dozen landlords participated in the study, he said.
Four community meetings – two in each county – were held on regional housing needs, with two to six people attending each meeting, Grossman added.
More public input may be needed before the housing study can proceed, he said.
Councilwoman Tammy Holloway pointed out that the meetings were held in August, when many tourism-based business owners were unable to attend.
She recommended that if more public input is needed, future meetings should offer an option for virtual attendance and be held during the off-season, such as in January.