By Shawn Regan firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — HAVERHILL — Downtown merchants and residents wants changes to the city’s new paid parking plan.
At tonight’s City Council meeting, Mayor James Fiorentini will ask councilors to approve several changes to downtown lots requested by business owners and people who live in the center of the city. He will also ask for the authority to make such changes on his own in the future.
At the 60-space lot at the corner of Locust and Essex streets, the mayor wants to convert some of the hourly, metered spaces to multi-use spaces that can be used by people with permits or people paying by the hour.
Public Works Director Michael Stankovich said merchants and residents who live nearby have asked for the change so they can use their permits to park in the lot, which is across from Maria’s Restaurant and near several residential buildings and businesses that lack convenient parking for their employees.
At the Merrimack Street parking garage, the city is looking to do the opposite. At the request of merchants in that part of downtown, the city wants to convert 22 permit-only spaces to hourly, metered spots for customers of businesses in that area and other short-term parkers, Stankovich said.
“We have said all along that the plan is fluid and that we are going to keep changing it based on feedback until we get it right,” he said.
A major stumbling block in that approach, however, is that officials have to obtain approval from the council to change the use of even a single parking space. And before the council can consider any change, the proposal has to sit on the council agenda for at least 10 days before a vote.
The mayor is asking the council to allow his Parking Commission to make such changes on its own in the future.
“We want to give the Parking Commission a little bit more flexibility so they can change space usage without getting council approval,” Fiorentini said.
The process of obtaining council approval even applies to making temporary changes, the mayor said.
For instance, when the city installed boat docks in the Merrimack River this past summer behind the Tap restaurant, a few permit-only parking spaces had to be temporarily eliminated along the flood wall to accommodate the work. That also required a slow process that included council approval, the mayor said.
“We need the flexibility to be able to allow permit parkers to park in other spots without going to the City Council every time,” Fiorentini said.
The mayor stressed major changes, such as changing parking rates or terms of the contract with the company running the program, would continue to require council approval.
A third change to the parking plan up for consideration tonight is converting four “loading-only’’ spaces on Washington Street to spaces that are reserved not only for business deliveries, but also 15-minute parking for customers of nearby businesses. The spaces are in front of Andino’s Pizzeria at 64 Washington St.
Meanwhile, Stankovich said the city is planning two public meetings on paid parking as it approaches its three-month anniversary Nov. 1.
“People seem to be getting used to the rules and the plan seems to be settling in,” Stankovich said. “But we want to continue to hear people’s concerns and suggestions.”
On weekdays, drivers must pay 50 cents per hour from 3 to 8 p.m. to park on Washington, Essex, Granite and Wingate streets. Street parking is free from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., but is limited to two hours.
Drivers pay 50 cents per hour to park in city lots, the same as on-street parking. The city has also sold more than 800 parking permits for $15 per month to people who live or work downtown. The permits are for permit-only and mixed-use spaces in various lots near the downtown train station.
The program is designed to dissuade long-term parking by people such as commuters who ride the train and those who live and work downtown from parking for hours at a time in the heart of the business district. Instead, the city wants them to park on roads at the edge of downtown, such as Bailey Boulevard where parking is free. The idea is to open pay spaces near restaurants and other businesses for customers and other short-term visitors to come and go quickly and conveniently.
Last month, officials said the city’s two parking enforcement officers handed out 400 tickets in the first month of the program — about four times as many as were given out in an average month prior to the program’s Aug. 1 start. Haverhill doled out 676 tickets from Jan. 1 to July 31, or about 95 per month, the mayor said. Prior to paid parking, the city enforced two-hour parking limits on downtown streets, but not in the many public lots scattered about the central business district, he said.
The mayor said the increased ticketing was expected and not likely to subside much. Many of the tickets were forgiven during a grace period.
Of the 300 tickets that stuck, 199 went to drivers who put no money in the meter, the mayor said. Another 19 were given to people whose time limit expired, and the rest went to people who parked in permit-only spots without a permit or parked for more than two hours in a spot where parking is limited to a maximum of two hours, he said.
Earlier this month, the city created 23 additional free parking spaces on Bailey Boulevard at downtown’s northern edge by converting existing parallel parking spaces into diagonal spaces that drivers back into.
Haverhill has received $100,000 so far from SP Plus Municipal Services, the company running paid parking for the city, and will receive another $100,000 later if the program generates $250,000 in the first six months or $500,000 after a year.