CORRECTION: This article was updated at 3 p.m. Sunday, April 26, 2020, to fix a type.
EMERALD ISLE — Town commissioners Friday night agreed in principle to a phased coronavirus reopening plan that would allow short-term rentals of homes and motels to restart Saturday, May 9.
The board reached consensus on individual aspects of the plan, generally based on Gov. Roy Cooper’s statewide phased plan, during a nearly two-hour special meeting conducted by conference call.
The public was able to “attend” and listen in, but could not comment. Commissioners, after discussion, agreed individually by voice to each aspect of the plan.
The action came after the board learned from Town Manager Matt Zapp during the meeting town rental agencies have taken bookings that begin Wednesday, when Gov. Cooper’s statewide “stay-at-home” order was originally set to expire.
Gov. Cooper Thursday extended that order through Friday, May 8 at 5 p.m. and announced the flexible plan to phase in reopening of the state.
Mr. Zapp told the board Friday night he got the rental information from Carteret County Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Jim Browder.
The board got advice during the meeting from town attorney Richard Stanley, who was on the conference call and said the panel could prohibit any additional short-term rentals until at least Saturday, May 9.
Mr. Zapp said the TDA director told him rental agencies were agreeable to that plan but would not cancel existing rental contracts.
Commissioners discussed not setting a date, as suggested by Commissioner Steve Finch. However, Mayor Pro Tem Floyd Messer and Mayor Eddie Barber were adamant rental agencies and hotels and motels needed a “firm date” on which they would start accepting bookings. The mayor said he had talked to representatives of the agencies.
The Emerald Isle plan is pegged, generally, to Gov. Cooper’s phased reopening plan. In phase one, which could start May 9 after the extended order expires if the state’s novel coronavirus indicators continue to move in a positive direction, there would be “more opportunities to go out … without the restriction of going out only for needed supplies,” the governor said Thursday.
But those non-essential retail stores that open would still have to implement social distancing. Gatherings would still be limited to 10 people or fewer.
Phase two, the governor said, could occur at least two to three weeks after phase one if the state hits virus-reduction benchmarks. It would lift the stay-at-home-order.
Restaurants, bars, houses of worship and entertainment venues would be allowed to open with reduced capacity. The number of people allowed at gatherings would increase and public playgrounds could open. Gyms and personal care services that follow safety protocols could also open.
After four to six weeks of phase two, if the state again hits virus-reduction benchmarks, phase three could begin.
Restaurants, bars and houses of worship could increase capacity.
Beach access parking
Two of the town’s small public beach access parking lots, at Station Street and 3rd Street, will open May 9, according to the plan Emerald Isle commissioners established Friday.
Commissioners were split on when to reopen the two major beach parking lots, the eastern and western ocean regional accesses. Each has more than 160 parking spaces but are undergoing repairs of damage caused by Hurricane Florence in September 2018.
Some board members said they thought those accesses should open as soon as repairs are complete. Director of Parks and Recreation Alesia Sanderson said the eastern access could be ready as early as Saturday, May 16.
Other commissioners favored waiting until Friday, May 22, when Gov. Cooper has indicated it might be time to start phase two of his reopening plan for the state.
In the end, the board agreed to let Mayor Barber, Mr. Zapp and Ms. Sanderson meet as soon as possible to work out a solution.
Ms. Sanderson said during the meeting she favored Friday, May 22 for the large accesses to reopen.
“Some of my staff are concerned about having to clean out the bathrooms,” she said, and voiced it would be foolish to reopen the parking lots without reopening the bathrooms.
Commissioner Mark Taylor said he favored a limited reopening of the big parking lots, maybe with only 50% of the spaces available, then opening the other spaces later. He cited Ms. Sanderson’s statistic that each car at the access typically carries an average of four people. But Mr. Messer said he thought it should be all or nothing.
Emerald Isle restaurants, bars
Commissioner Jim Normile said he was concerned about opening up short-term rentals when, under the governor’s plan, restaurants couldn’t open to inside customers.
“We have to be able to feed them,” Mr. Normile said of the expected influx of visitors. “We need to prepare for 30,000 people.”
The board asked Mr. Stanley to work with them to ask the governor to allow Emerald Isle restaurants to reopen in some fashion to coincide with the rental opening.
Mr. Stanley said he would do that, but didn’t know how long it might take or how successful it would be.
Currently, under Gov. Cooper’s order, restaurants can only serve customers take-out or delivery.
Other town functions
Board members agreed to set later opening dates for the town’s administrative offices, meeting room, police department and community center, which includes a gymnasium and workout equipment.
That was based on a recommendation from Ms. Sanderson, who said large outside groups use the gym and some of the rooms in the community/recreation center.
Some of her peers elsewhere, she said, have indicated to her they won’t reopen until Saturday, July 4.
Commissioners agreed the gymnasium and fitness equipment room should be among the last things to reopen.
The plan also would end Wednesday a requirement that anyone from outside town who comes to Emerald Isle must voluntarily self-quarantine for two weeks. That measure has been largely aimed at the large number of second homeowners in town, but officials have indicated they don’t know how effective it has been.
The board’s decisions could still change, based on actions at the state level.
Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email Brad@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.