By Connie Leinbach
Parking on Ocracoke is always a problem and it got dicier the last several weeks as the Community Square lot has undergone renovation.
Long needed, the Ocracoke Foundation, which owns the square, in February began the project to upgrade the waste water systems for businesses in the square.
Plans were to have all the work done by Easter, which was April 1, but that deadline passed, and completion is still several weeks away.
“Nothing happens on Ocracoke the way you plan it,” said Scott Bradley, foundation president. “This has been an incredibly complicated project. It will improve water quality in Silver Lake and benefit the whole community.”
The project involved removing the old macadam and installing an underground wastewater system before repaving. Huge backhoes and other equipment from Basnight Construction populated the square for several days in the demolition.
“Then we had four nor’easters in four weeks,” Bradley said.
Although the foundation had wanted concrete installed that could absorb rainwater (pervious concrete), the logistics of getting this type of concrete to the island forced a change of plans.
“When it came time for the concrete, that company backed out,” Bradley said.
So, the engineer had to redesign the paving plan, which took a few more weeks.
But Bradley said today (April 10) that Hatchell Concrete of Manteo, is scheduled to begin the repaving on Monday (April 16), which “should take two to three weeks depending on weather and other unknowns to completion, including
all time required to properly cure the concrete.”
In an email, Bradley noted that the new design has standard concrete in the drive lane and the parking areas will have the water-absorbing paver stones. When complete, the 15-foot by 60-foot septic area in the middle will be grassy, as will a few areas along the edges of the parking lot adjacent to buildings.
In the meantime, the square is torn up with piles of debris all over; the newly installed wastewater system still needs power and to be tested before it’s operational, which should be in two to three weeks.
Pedestrian safety in the construction zone and lack of highly visible signage directing visitors to the NPS lot has concerned business owners.
“It’s dangerous and confusing,” said Marcy Brenner, of Coyote Music Den, which is a year-round business along with the Community Store. The Den, where they help to promote musical and literary artists, is her and her husband, Lou Castro’s, life dream.
“It’s frustrating. Every season there’s some kind of disaster—whether a hurricane, power outage, road closure—and we already have our first disaster.”
She said she wrote a letter to the foundation board describing the impact to businesses and lack of timelines.
Basnight crews today installed orange-webbed construction fencing around the area only.
He noted that the businesses—the Community Store, Coyote Den, Trixie’s Fineries, The Fudge and Ice Cream Shop and Kitty Hawk Kites—are open and that a few parking spaces are available.
“If people want to get to the businesses, they’re getting to the businesses,” he said.
While Easter weekend was one of the best in recent memory with warm, sunny weather, rainy and raw weather has returned in the last few days.
But it’s still the off season and “people aren’t here now,” Bradley said.
Until the work is complete, visitors to the square are urged to park at the NPS lot at the south end of the village near the ferry terminals from which they will have to walk a little farther.
Additionally, the Ocracoke Youth Center has OKed for visitors to park behind the Village Thrift across from the square.
Overall, once complete, Community Square will lose about six parking spaces, further reducing “downtown” short-term parking.
Other nearby shop owners say their parking areas are for their staff and customers. One, who declined to be identified, noted that there have been several fender-benders and animals hit by visitors leaving their cars there all day.
Parking on the island is an educational thing, noted Tim Parker, whose business T.J. Outfitters is across from Community Square, and who constantly educates visitors about parking.
“People who don’t know the island expect to see the acres of parking like in the rest of the world,” he said.