Tar Heel Tattler - March 2007

What's up – docks – when slips show
By Arthur O. Murray

If you want to stash your boat at Creekside Yacht Club in Wrightsville Beach, you’d better act fast and bring some serious green. Prices for a slip run from $90,000 to $159,000, General Manager Tommy Vann says. That’s if you can find one for sale. Only nine of 371 have changed hands since January 2006. Four years ago, you would have paid $18,000 to $45,000.

Due to a double-whammy of increasing demand and shrinking supply, boat slips all along the coast are harder to find. Soaring property values and the higher taxes they bring have led owners to sell marinas for residential development.

Mike Bradley, who monitors the boating industry as director of the state’s North Carolina Waterways program, says six marinas in Carteret County are closing after being bought by developers. Property values have gone up so much, he says he might even have to sell his house in Beaufort. “There are a lot of waterfront businesses in the same category. If you consider selling, you’re going to sell for the highest and best use.” Holdouts have to raise prices to cover costs. Though home building on the coast has slowed, the situation isn’t likely to get better soon. “They’re not building any marinas anywhere,” Vann says. “You just can’t go into an area to dredge and fill in to make a marina. You can’t get a permit.”

The General Assembly appointed a 21-member Waterfront Access Study Committee last year to examine the issue. It is considering recommending a property-tax break for coastal business owners and the purchase of more coastal land to ensure public access.

Bradley likes both ideas but knows they may not be popular with lawmakers. The tax break would call for valuation of coastal businesses to remain at current levels as long as the land use doesn’t change. Farmers and their supporters don’t like it, he says, because they fear it might dilute their similar tax break. Bradley prefers having the state purchase coastal tracts, which could become business parks for marinas and other ventures.

Regardless of the strategy, Vann hopes the issue is resolved quickly. A host of potential boat owners are watching and waiting, he says. “A man’s a fool to buy a boat and not have a place to put it.”