CEDAR POINT — Increasing traffic, environmental protection and the impacts of development were on the minds of candidates and potential voters who attended a municipal election forum Thursday night organized by the League of Women Voters of Carteret County.
Board of commission candidates Gary Bray, Paul Garavaglia, Josh Reilly and Frankie Winberry – the latter the only incumbent in the race – provided brief statements and answered questions submitted to a moderator by members of the town hall audience.
The candidates are seeking two seats in the Tuesday, Nov. 5 election, one held by Mr. Winberry and the other being vacated by David Winberry, who chose not to seek reelection.
Mayor Scott Hatsell, who is running unopposed for reelection, did not attend.
The election comes as the town is experiencing rapid residential and business growth, and residents have been increasingly worried about fast and heavy traffic on Highway 24, the only road that leads all the way through town.
The town does not have a police department and contracts with the county for a full-time sheriff’s deputy.
Some have also expressed concern about crime and worried the town is in danger of losing its small-town charm.
Thursday night, none of the candidates said they support creating a police department.
Mr. Garavaglia said traffic has been getting worse and isn’t likely to get better, so he’d like town officials to work with the N.C. Department of Transportation to at least slow traffic and simultaneously get it flowing more smoothly.
Most of the traffic, he said, is tourists passing through or workers headed to Morehead City or the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.
“We (residents) avoid 24 like the plague,” he said.
The best solutions, he said, are to get NCDOT to install more right-turn lanes and work with other nearby towns to get traffic lights synchronized to keep vehicles from getting backed up, especially during the summer.
As for the environment, Mr. Garavaglia said he supports the town adopting an ordinance, if possible, to require stormwater systems to collect and hold more rainfall than the state currently requires.
“We can ask to do more,” he said.
Mr. Reilly said he thought the town’s $2.8 million purchase of 56 acres of land this year along the White Oak River was a major step to protect water quality, as the land had been zoned for multi-family, residential development and now will serve as a stormwater runoff buffer for the river.
Mr. Bray agreed, but said he thinks the town should continue trying to do more to protect the coastal ecoystem.
Frankie Winberry said he believes the town does a good job and the natural area/park along the river will help.
The town, he said, is going to continue to grow – especially when the Interstate 42 project from the Raleigh area to the coast is completed – and the key for the town will be to manage growth and minimize its impacts.
But the town, Frankie Winberry said, “can’t do much” to tell a property owner whose land is zoned for business “what he can or can’t put there.”
None of the candidates were especially worried that Cedar Point has lost its small-town charm, but all agreed it must be protected vigorously.
One way to do that, Frankie Winberry said, is to continue the town’s longstanding efforts to convince businesses that do come to town to build structures that fit into the coastal environment.
“We have a pretty good ordinance” that enables town staff and commissioners to work with business developers to do that, he said.
Mr. Garavaglia said he thinks the town could make itself more visually attractive by working to remove abandoned buildings and get those properties redeveloped.
Frankie Winberry said the town’s ordinances should enable suitable development when those properties are sold.
Mr. Bray, meanwhile, said the town could help preserve charm by slowing the traffic on Highway 24 from 45 to 35 mph, something the town has tried for years to get the state to do.
In response to a question about “marketing” the town, Mr. Reilly said as a realtor, he already does that. But the town, he said, needs to be selective about the kinds of businesses it tries to attract.
Several candidates mentioned they don’t want big box stores.
In response to a question about taking potentially influential campaign contributions from businesses, Mr. Reilly and Mr. Garavaglia said they would recuse themselves from voting in such cases. Frankie Winberry and Mr. Bray said they aren’t accepting donations.
Mr. Garavaglia said he thought with all the recent growth – and increased traffic along Highway 24 – it might be time for the town to look at revising its comprehensive plan, which generally encourages business development along the highway.
All of the candidates agreed the town needs to do as much as possible to encourage people to walk and bike. Frankie Winberry said he thinks the town should extend its sidewalk system along Highway 24 and down Old Highway 58.
Mr. Bray said he agreed about the sidewalks, but believes it would be wise for the town to survey residents to see if they would be used enough to make the expense worthwhile, and said it might also be wise to consider a sidewalk along VFW Road, which leads to the natural area/park and campground in the Croatan National Forest.
Mr. Reilly said he thinks the town already does a good job of encouraging pedestrian traffic, but it’s very dangerous for walkers or cyclists to cross Highway 24. He said the trails in the new riverfront park/natural area should get more people out walking.
Mr. Garavaglia suggested the town install some Highway 24 crosswalks with flashing lights and buttons for pedestrians.
When asked how they think the town and its government can be improved, Mr. Bray said he thinks the new park is a key to that and he’d like to be on a committee to aid the process of developing it according to residents’ desires.
Mr. Reilly said “transparency is a must,” and added he’d like to see the town improve its efforts to communicate with residents.
Frankie Winberry noted his family goes back generations in the town, and said he wants to continue to protect the environment and encourage reasonable development to help keep taxes low.
Mr. Garavaglia, in keeping with his suggestion about the comprehensive plan, said he wants to keep business development from further encroaching into the residential neighborhoods.
The Rev. Sally White of the Unitarian Coastal Fellowship in Morehead City moderated the forum, and another LWV member used a system of signs to limit candidates’ answers to one minute. None of the participants abused that limit.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.