City will re-exam proposed parking changes
By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector
Friday, August 23, 2019
Greenville city leaders will “reflect” on multiple objections to a proposal to impose a night-time parking fee in the downtown area before presenting final recommendations to City Council.
The presentation to the council, originally scheduled for September, also will be pushed back for 30 days, Assistant City Manager Ken Graves said during the second of two public input sessions on proposed changes.
About 40 people attended the Thursday afternoon session at Sheppard Memorial Library. Thirty people were at the Tuesday session at the same location. The timing of the two sessions drew complaints from the Thursday’s audience, with members saying the mid-afternoon sessions prevented more people from weighing in.
Corey Barrett, special events liaison with the city, said to promote better usage of downtown parking the city wants to do away with all free on-street parking and two-hour free parking in city lots. Instead, people using both types of parking will get the first hour free with people in lots paying $1 for each additional hour and on-street parking users paying $1.75 for each additional hour.
It’s also proposed that a flat rate of $15 be charged after 10 p.m. The flat rate would offset the cost of paying private security and parking enforcement after hours.
The e-tag program, which was set up so business employees and people living downtown could use on-street parking in certain areas, also would be eliminated in favor of a new permitting system.
The details for the new permitting system are still being developed.
The recommendations Barrett presented came from a 2017 parking study. It recommended the current parking fine needs to increase from $5 to $20.
“I don’t quite get the night-time enforcement. There isn’t a parking problem after 5 p.m.,” said Michael Glenn, chairman of Uptown Greenville.
A number of speakers questioned the validity of the $15 fee, saying it appeared to be more focused on raising money than solving parking problems.
Developer Jonathan Taft said in cities he has lived in and visited paid parking is typically implemented during daytime hours, although Washington D.C.’s paid parking runs from 7 a.m. through 10 p.m.
Some speakers said the $15 fee would prevent lower-income residents from enjoying downtown businesses and nightclubs.
State Rep. Kandie Smith, a former Greenville City Council member, likened it to a tax on the parents of East Carolina University students since they make up a majority of people visiting the downtown area after 10 p.m.
Mayoral candidate Renee Boston-Hill and City Council candidates Jermaine McNair and John Landrine also participated in Thursday’s session.
No current members of the Greenville City Council attended either meeting.
Spencer Bunting, owner of Red Shark Digital, wanted details about permitting for employees of downtown businesses. He questioned if he would be charged $15 on days he works past 10 p.m.
Another question was when the $15 would go in effect. Would only people parking at or after 10 p.m. pay it or would a person who parked earlier in the evening but didn’t leave until after 10 p.m. also pay it?
Steven Tyndall, owner of Cuttystyles Studio, had questions about how many employee permits would be available per business. Currently there is a limit on the number of e-tags businesses can purchase. He said many nightclubs can have 40 or more employees.
One speaker questioned if city employees understood the area’s parking issues because they leave work at 5 p.m.
Parking Enforcement Supervisor Jimmie Tyrrell said his family visits restaurants in the downtown area and has experienced the difficulties.
Downtown’s nighttime population can increase 10- to 12-fold on certain nights, Tyrrell said, creating a need for enforcement and safety patrols.
Richard Williams, owner of Luna Pizza Cafe, said parking is one issue the majority of his customers talk about. He said he’s happy the city has worked to provide additional parking in the Dickinson Avenue area, however, he does want rules or cost put in place that would discourage people from visiting the area.
The proposed $15 fee is not “very small business friendly” said one speaker, with another adding that customers will notice that chain restaurants along Greenville Boulevard have free parking.
Andrew Schmidt, executive director of Greenville-Pitt County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said out-of-town guests who face unexpected parking fees and fines will not make a second trip to town.
While most speakers at both meetings said the uptown area’s parking problems occurred mainly during business hours, one man at Thursday’s meeting questioned if it was even problematic at that time.
Allison Thomas, owner of The Martinsborough and Scarborough Fare Catering, said she doesn’t get big events during weekday hours because of parking issues. If someone planning a wedding reception or other nighttime event finds out they’ll have to pay $15 for each guest to park, she could lose her business.
At both meetings, Glenn said it’s good the city wants to address parking issues but it should engage business owners and the membership of Uptown Greenville and the Downtown Merchants Association in creating the policy.
“I think we are at a place where we can take this information, reflect on it and put it in the plan,” Assistant City Manager Michael Cowin said.