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Residents upset at Lake Norman beach traffic

Residents near Mecklenburg County’s new swimming beach on Lake Norman are demanding answers after hundreds of beach-goer cars crammed their streets and driveways.

Crowds were expected with the opening of the beach Memorial Day weekend at Ramsey Creek Park off Nantz Road, residents said, but not in such numbers. “Nobody had a clue,” said Mike Montanaro, who has lived in Cornelius for 25 years, including 17 on Nantz Road.

The beach drew more than 8,000 people opening day and twice that two days later on Memorial Day, Park Manager Chris Hunter said Saturday at the park. While crowds were noticeably thinner Saturday, with many spaces available in the early afternoon, the park expects another surge over the July 4 holiday.

Montanaro estimated at least 300 cars tried to turn around or park on his stretch of the road when Ramsey Creek’s lots filled May 28. “And that’s very conservative,” he said.

Residents said long-promised traffic-control measures have yet to materialize, including a signal and other improvements at Nantz Road and West Catawba Avenue.

Their complaints helped spur a community meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday in the Cornelius Town Hall community room, 21445 Catawba Ave. Officials from Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, the town of Cornelius and Cornelius Police Department plan to discuss beach operations and the planned traffic signal.

The beach is the first at a county-run park since several drownings in the 1970s prompted the county to shut down its beaches. County commissioners voted unanimously in 2009 to lift the beach ban. But plans were curtailed by severe budget cuts to the Park and Recreation Department because of the recession.

County officials said they considered various parks for beaches but found Ramsey Creek Park best suited for one.

Montanaro and other residents said the county should have prepared better for the crowds that descended on their neighborhoods. “Inadequate in all respects,” Montanaro told the Observer at the park Saturday.

“It can’t be a free-for-all,” he said of the crowds.

Jim Garges, Park and Recreation director, said the county anticipated the crowds. “Those are legitimate concerns, but not unexpected,” Garges told WBTV, the Observer’s news partner, on Tuesday. “Our staff had been working for months to get ready for this day. We put the staffing model together a year ago. Anybody can critique anything, particularly if you don’t know what you’re doing or talking about.”

Garges said the traffic light should be up before the July 4 weekend.

Nantz Road residents have emailed each other photos of unauthorized beach-goer cars in their driveways. Some drivers at least left notes, including one that asked that their car not be towed because they’d be back in an hour. Another driver left $8.

Others drove through police tape blocking the entrance to the Courtyards on Lake Norman mixed-use community under construction on Nantz Road at West Catawba Avenue.

One resident reported shooing 60 cars from his driveway, only to have stones tossed at him by a carload of teenagers he’d turned away.

Residents said the county should provide shuttle buses to the beach from lots on West Catawba Avenue, much like the Greater Charlotte Asian Festival held at Ramsey Creek Park does each year.

Hunter said county Park and Recreation owns no lots near the park, making that option difficult. He said the department is considering such options as a boat shuttle from Blythe Landing Park on N.C. 73 on the southern end of Lake Norman.

Ohio-based Epcon Communities, developer of the Courtyards on Lake Norman, plans to install a turn lane this summer at Nantz Road and West Catawba Avenue, company co-founder Phil Fankhauser told the Observer.

Park and Recreation also has placed “No Beach Parking” signs at entrances to roads leading off Nantz Road and at the Courtyards on Lake Norman, warning that vehicles could be towed.

But residents like Montanaro say they remain concerned for their community. “My agenda is safety and quality of life.”

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

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