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Sarasota Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 3 years ago

City staff endorses downtown meters — again

The City Commission is scheduled to have an in-depth discussion of paid parking policies at its Nov. 5 meeting.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

In the midst of yet another conversation about paid parking downtown, city staff is ready to endorse significant policy changes to the City Commission.

On Monday, Nov. 5, the commission is set to continue an ongoing discussion of the city’s parking strategy. According to material included with the agenda, at that meeting, staff will recommend:

  • Authorizing the city manager to begin the phased-in installation of parking meters in high-demand areas no later than May 2019;
  • Extending enforcement of existing parking regulations until 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday;
  • Reducing the free time in public parking garages from three hours to two by January 2019;
  • Committing 5% of parking meter revenues to the streets where the equipment is installed, investing that money back into the area;
  • Establishing a five-member ad-hoc parking committee to provide advice to city staff on parking strategy. This would include locations of on-street meters, parking rates, potential enhanced parking services and the use of any revenues set aside for improvements.

The recommendations come in response to the commission’s consideration of paid parking at its Oct. 15 meeting. Although Parking Manager Mark Lyons has recommended the implementation of parking meters in prime downtown locations since 2016, the commission is divided on the proposal.

Mayor Liz Alpert and Commissioner Willie Shaw believe on-street paid parking is part of a sensible strategy that would help address a deficit of more than $630,000 in the city’s parking fund. Commissioners Shelli Freeland Eddie and Hagen Brody fear the installation of parking meters would harm downtown businesses. Given the unpopularity of the city’s failed 2011 effort to install meters, they also thought the public would support the idea, either.

Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch positioned herself as the potential decisive vote, stating she needed more information before she felt comfortable making a decision regarding paid parking. Ahearn-Koch has previously said she would prefer not to install meters, but she wants the city to address the standing parking deficit.

Ahearn-Koch asked for additional data regarding the effects of potential changes to the city’s parking policies. As of Wednesday, that information was not included with the public materials for the Nov. 5 commission meeting. The agenda item states staff will submit more materials ahead of the meeting.

Lyons said he intends to share information about other cities that have transitioned to on-street paid parking in commercial district and seen positive results. He will also tell the commission about the low availability of parking spaces in high demand areas such as Main Street — which can be an impediment to activity if visitors feel they can’t find a place to park.

“Without turnover, you lose footprints on the sidewalk,” Lyons said. “It gives the perception to those who do drive downtown that there’s no room for them, and they drive on.”

The debate over paid parking downtown may also include a stand-off between representatives for two of the city’s largest commercial districts. The city intends to install parking meters on St. Armands Circle later this year, charging visitors to park once construction of a parking garage is complete in December.

St. Armands merchants and commercial property owners said they only agreed to a paid parking program because officials told them meters would be installed citywide. Critics of downtown parking meters said they’re sympathetic to concerns coming from St. Armands, but they don’t think paid parking should be expanded downtown just to satisfy the Circle.

A group of downtown merchants have remained vocally opposed to on-street paid parking — even when the previous City Commission endorsed a plan to install parking meters in 2016. That opposition proved effective in 2017, when a commission with two new members halted staff’s efforts to add meters to Main Street and Palm Avenue.

Now, the commission finds itself revisiting staff’s original plan for installing meters. By Monday evening, the board could take decisive action regarding the future of parking policy in downtown Sarasota.

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