At their last meeting of 2012, city commissioners squeezed in another discussion about downtown parking. They voted unanimously to put less-strict parking enforcement in place.
Monday’s vote brings back pre-2011 parking-enforcement hours.
Downtown merchants who claim evening and Saturday timed parking enforcement deterred customers from shopping and dining downtown support the changes.
Commissioners voted to eliminate timed parking enforcement on Saturdays and parking enforcement after 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Currently, parking time limits are enforced from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Commissioners also directed city staff to look into a paid-permit program that would allow employees to pay for a monthly permit in exchange for being able to park in parking areas without a time limit.
Before the meeting, Commissioner Terry Turner sent an email to City Manager Tom Barwin saying the city should consider eased parking restrictions downtown, and Commissioner Paul Caragiulo placed the topic on the agenda.
Caragiulo said it was time for the city to correct changes to timed parking that were made when parking meters were installed downtown.
“If it ain’t right, we have to correct it,” Caragiulo said.
The changes approved Monday follow in the wake of the Nov. 5 approval of less-strict parking enforcement on St. Armands Circle.
Downtown advocate Ernie Ritz emailed commissioners the day after the St. Armands’ changes were approved and asked for a return to the former parking-enforcement times downtown.
In addition to fewer hours of parking enforcement, Ritz suggested a return to a paid-permit program that would allow employees to pay for a monthly permit in exchange for being able to park in parking areas without a time limit.
Caragiulo and Turner agreed at Monday’s meeting that a permit program for employees would clear prime parking spaces for customers.
But, they disagreed on the approach.
Caragiulo said a business owner could be issued several permits that could be used on an alternating basis for the business’ employees. Turner said the program would be easier to enforce and manage if individual drivers were issued a permit for their vehicles.
Under such a program, employees would be able to park in designated areas, such as the third floor of the Whole Foods garage, the State Street lot and the Palm Avenue parking garage.
Turner thinks the city could issue parking stickers to employees and draft an ordinance to ensure that employees park in those areas — instead of on Main Street, occupying other prime parking spaces.
Barwin said getting employees to park away from Main Street would be an improvement in the parking situation.
Barwin and city staff will work on concepts for an employee-permit program, he said, and present those to the City Commission.
Mayor Suzanne Atwell said some employees might not want to walk, especially at night, to either the Whole Foods garage or the Palm Avenue garage.
“I think there is going to be pushback (against the permit program),” Atwell said.
Commissioners also approved a change in late fees meant to get ticket holders to pay their outstanding parking tickets.
Southside Village businesses could see a similar shift in parking enforcement. Commissioners want the city manager to consider eliminated timed parking enforcement in that area after 6 p.m. on weekdays and on Saturdays.