HAVERHILL — Somebody involved with the city’s paid parking program jumped the gun.
Several people who used their parking permits to park in the Merrimack Street garage in recent days received warning tickets for using spaces reserved for hourly, metered parking — or at least that’s what the bright orange tickets said.
It turns out, however, the spaces were mixed-use spaces where permit parking is allowed.
Mayor James Fiorentini asked to change the spaces in question from permit spaces to hourly spaces, but enforcement officers began ticketing before the change was considered by the City Council this week.
And when councilors did consider the change Tuesday night, they rejected the mayor’s request to give his parking commission the power to change how spaces in the garage and downtown lots are used without council approval. Five votes were required for approval. Four councilors voted in favor and three against.
In opposing the mayor’s request, Councilor William Macek held up a warning ticket given to him by a frustrated resident.
“These tickets say the changes are in effect before we approved the changes,” Macek said. “That was a mistake and it was wrong.”
“These warning tickets are the kind of thing that ticks people off,” said Councilor Michael McGonagle, who owns a downtown business on Merrimack Street.
Nearly three months ago, the city began to charge drivers to park downtown. The paid parking plan has a variety of rules governing on-street parking and the use of spaces in parking garages and lots. Haverhill adopted the plan to discourage downtown workers and train commuters from using on-street parking and therefore free up those spaces for customers of businesses.
Macek, McGonagle and Colin LePage voted against turning over control of paid lot spaces to the parking commission. Supporting it were Councilors Michael Hart, William Ryan, Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien and Robert Scatamacchia. Councilor Tom Sullivan abstained from voting at the recommendation of City Solicitor William Cox because Sullivan owns a parking permit. Council President John Michitson was absent.
“I don’t think it’s in the city’s best interest to have the council micro-managing the parking commission,” Hart said. “We should rely on their good judgement on the spaces.”
Public Works Director Michael Stankovich, who is overseeing paid parking, told councilors the parking commission specifically wants to make changes to spaces in two parking lots, at the request of merchants and downtown residents.
In the public lot in across from Maria’s restaurant at the corner of Locust and Essex streets, the commission wants to add more multi-use spaces that can be used by people with permits.
At the Merrimack Street parking garage, the commission is looking to do the opposite. At the request of restaurant owners in that part of downtown, the commission wants to convert 22 permit spaces to hourly, metered spots for short-term parkers. These are the spaces where drivers received the warning tickets.
Despite the parking commission’s intentions, there were no specific proposals regarding the lots in front of the council Tuesday night. The only proposal was to give the commission the power to make those and other changes on its own in the future.
David Van Dam, the mayor’s aide, said he expects new proposals will be made to the council in the near future to adopt the lot configurations discussed Tuesday night.
A third change to the parking plan that was discussed at the meeting would convert three “loading-only” spaces on Washington Street to spaces that are reserved not only for business deliveries, but also 15-minute free parking for customers of nearby businesses. The spaces are near Andino’s Pizzeria at 64 Washington St.
Some councilors said they favor that proposal because Andino’s needs convenient parking or its customers will go elsewhere for pizza. Others said it’s not fair to make that kind of a change for one business when there are many downtown merchants who would like such an arrangement.
Meanwhile, Stankovich announced that a public meeting on the parking plan has been scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. at 90 Washington St.
“We’re going to continue to make changes based on feedback from people and businesses downtown,” Stankovich said.