By Pete Zamplas-Hendersonville City Council on Thursday declared downtown parking a priority with near-term solutions likely to include leasing bank and other private lots for downtown workers, and a longer-range plan for a parking deck or more surface lots.
The board, which also appointed outgoing Council member Jeff Collis to fellow defeated candidate Ralph Freeman’s place on the Planning Board, nixed the usual free holiday parking perk downtown. Parking meters there will remain active instead of covered to grant free parking, the Council decided.
Council agreed with the Downtown Advisory Committee’s reasoning that too many downtown workers were hogging spots all day and, as a result, less parking was available and it was further away from Main. Councilman Ron Stephens said he has seen indications workers are parking in spaces that he has seen full before stores and offices open at 9 a.m., and without crowds outside a store awaiting its opening.
Yet after the meeting, the city’s Main Street Direct Lew Holloway warmed to an idea raised then. It is for free short-term (i.e. up to three hours) parking in the large Dogwood lot — with a stiff fine and strict enforcement to deter workers parking there.
But unless such a proposal is introduced, last week’s decision stands and holiday shoppers are “grinched” out of free parking, which some feel helps downtown merchants contend with shopping plazas that have free parking. Others note there is an illusion, that a shopper often walks further from the back of a lot into a mall than a block or so downtown.
Free short-term parking might gain more traction once the city provides more parking including areas designated for downtown workers and event volunteers. Foremost on steps to take in coming weeks is to identify and negotiate leased access to bank and other commercial lots. These are typically used 9-5 weekdays and perhaps Saturday mornings, but often closed much of evenings and weekends. These could go to workers of restaurants and other places open then, and/or to the general public as well such as for weekend festivals. Currently, some lots are available but other lots are closed off.
Holloway, maestro of downtown economic development, and City Manager John Connet both presented the recent downtown parking study to Council during the meeting. Their 72-page report recapped public suggestions in an open workshop in August, then in a survey in September. They consulted such city officials as Public Works Director Tom Wooten, Planning Department Director Sue Anderson, and police parking enforcement officer Anita Lockhart.
The study noted areas of consensus wishes such as for a parking garage at an existing lot such as Dogwood, also split views. For instance, shoppers want more spaces for up to three hours while workers seek more day-long spots. Both are city objectives.
A map of existing public parking was in the study. Another priority rated by citizens is to put up signs directing people to these lots, ahead of permanent “wayfinding” markers around town. Connet said such steps should be taken in coming weeks, others by spring. These include cutting or rearranging vegetation to make public lots more visible and safer, and evaluating parking enforcement and its balance of weeding out parking abusers but not scaring away visitors to town.
Mayor Barbara Volk and Council directed a comprehensive parking resource study by 2014-15, on the actual parking supply versus perception of a shortage. It will factor in various groups’ use including in peak hours and future needs, to help prioritize solutions.
“Smart” meters highlight projects taking a year to three years, with significant costs. These meters eliminate need to use coins for those willing to be billed on a credit card. They can be activated remotely by a smart phone, such as when staying longer than planned in a cafe. This pleased Stephens. Of course, cost of smart meters will be examined. Options include individual meters, or a central billing kiosk in a lot or mid-block on Main.
Parallel parking might go in on King Street. Some loading zones might be reduced or eliminated, to create more parking. Buses might get their own spaces, for tour groups or transit users.
A parking deck is the jewel of possible long-term solutions, taking three to five years to happen and easing parking to 2020 or beyond, Connet noted. This is apt to draw biggest debate in the next year or so, including how to finance it.
The city will weigh pros and cons of paving several surface lots versus a deck, and how big to build a garage if that is done. Councilman Jerry Smith said prices need to be gauged for “economy, family and Cadillac-size” options. A deck too many floors up might dwarf nearby buildings, disrupting Downtown’s cozy feel, it was suggested. Yet a larger structure looms as more cost-efficient, and lessens need to pave several surface lots.
Security is paramount, Stephens said. “I wouldn’t want my wife walking (alone) up to a third level, at night.” There was talk about the deck at the end of Pardee Hospital. Some who feel secure in it said it is because security is nearby. Thus, a public garage downtown would benefit from police patrol, or private security if via a public-private partnership.
Options for locating a deck are to buy a centrally-located, convenient site or or to use city-owned land such as an existing lot. The obvious front-running existing lot is the largest public lot, Dogwood , off Church Street on the northwestern edge of downtown.
But Councilman Steve Caraker said a deck is not “the magic bullet, to solve everything.” Instead, he warned, “it’d take more capital investment for something nobody wants to use.” He cautioned that elderly people among others might be leery about walking a block or two to Main. Caraker instead suggests exploring feasibility and availability of a well-lit, more central location on Main.
Council’s other action included authorizing a new appraisal of the city-owned mill site before deciding how to best sell it,
The city waived tap-on water fees for Boyd Chevrolet since it is moving across town this week and using less water than trailer-park predecessors at the Spartanburg Highway site, and for the Dana community project to replace tainted well water with clean city water. The city will help seek a block grant for Dana.
Council also approved a special event permit for rededication of the restored McClintock clock for Friday, Nov. 15, 6-8 p.m. at Fourth and Main. The clock is on the second-level exterior of a former bank, now the Genealogical & Historical Society building.