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January 10, 2017

City’s parking headache examined

Business owners and employees raised concerns Monday night after learning the leased spaces – which some of them said they waited months to get – might not be guaranteed in the future road map of downtown parking.

By EMILY WEAVERTimes-News Staff Writer
Business owners and employees raised concerns Monday night after learning the leased spaces — which some of them said they waited months to get — might not be guaranteed in the future road map of downtown parking.

In their first unveiling of results from a parking study that began in September, traffic analysts from Dixon Resources Unlimited brought a mixed bag of suggestions to curb parking complaints to the city in February. An overhaul of the city’s permit parking program, stricter enforcement of the city’s parking codes and education of those codes were chief among their recommendations.

Dixon representatives Julie Dixon and David Cooker presented the same proposals to the public during a meeting Monday night at the City Operations Center. Pointing to data they collected during the city’s last Rhythm & Brews concert in September and during peak leaf season Oct. 17-21, the analysts said that most of the cars taking up spaces all day in front of businesses were driven by business owners, employees and downtown residents.

Main Street and side streets were operating over the industry standard set at 80 percent capacity for parking occupancy from lunchtime into the evening hours. Main Street was operating at 90 to 100 percent capacity during the busy times, the study found.

Revenue from parking meters has continued to increase over the past five years, and Dixon representatives predicted it would continue to climb with consistent enforcement and updated technology.

But instead of adding meters to Main Street, they recommended the city first utilize parking kiosks in lots, which will allow customers more options than paying with quarters and help them study usage in the lots.

People, on average, were spending more than 20 minutes in 15-minute spaces, according to the study, and Dixon representatives said they thought the city’s parking fines were too cheap.

Jen Butcher, of Kilwins on Main Street, pointed to the data in the study possibly being skewed since it was collected in September and October.

“Most of the Florida people are gone by then, and summer is practically over,” she said. “A week after Apple Festival, it’s dead.”

Dixon, owner of Dixon Resources Unlimited, said: “If what we saw in September was non-peak, then you have an even worse problem than what we basically saw. The fact that you were at 85-95 percent occupancy for that week that we came in September, that’s indicative of the fact that you have a bigger challenge on your hands.”

Many in the room agreed.

Ben Green, of The Green Room Café & Coffeehouse on Main Street, said he often finds the parking in front of his business taken by residents of the former Skyland Hotel above his shop. He asked whether the parking enforcement could be extended later hours to deter the interlopers from parking there.

Dixon said she would put that suggestion on the parking road map “for things to evaluate in three to six months.”

Dennis Dunlap said he has about 60 occupants, including more than 50 residents at the Skyland, to find leased spaces for, but he runs into roadblocks in securing the amount of spaces he actually needs.

Dixon said that by opening up assigned spaces in the lots, “you open up the lots for turnover so you don’t have an empty space that sits there.”

Green asked whether the study considered upping the fines for habitual offenders.

Dixon said the current fine for repeat offenders is $100. She asked for a show of hands to see what the room thought of increasing the fines. A few hands raised for jacking it up to $200. A few less hands raised in support of a $300 punishment.

But tension grew as the crowd mulled over the suggestion to overhaul the city’s permit parking program by taking names off of leased spaces. The spaces, which no longer would bear the names of those who paid for them, would be fair game, but current permit holders (of the $30 “Legacy” spaces) would not face an increase in their lease.

“The goal is to make sure that there are enough of your spaces still available. The intent was just to take the assignment out so we just don’t have vacant spaces in there,” Dixon said.

“Legacy doesn’t save us anything, if we don’t keep our spaces,” one man said.

“You don’t keep your space, but you would have more options of where to park,” Dixon said. In the new plan, permit holders would be free to park 24/7 in any of the lots.

Business owners and employees, however, were concerned that not having an assigned space would lead to them circling the blocks in search of one – an act many of them avoided by leasing a space.

The average parking permit for cities basically is $70-$80, Dixon said, asking if they would be willing to pay a higher premium. Some heads nodded.

“We pay for six spaces,” said Yvonne Hill of Goldmith by Rudi. “Our issue is that now we’re going to have to juggle the spaces … now we’re going to be all over the place … and I can’t ensure my employees (who she walks out at night) are going to be safe if we’re all in different spots over town.”

Read the rest of the article here.

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