EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 24, 2013

Merchant: Downtown paid parking not working

Studio owner says more spaces needed for people with permits

By Mike LaBella

---- — HAVERHILL — A business owner said she is trying to play by the city’s downtown parking rules, but it’s not working.

If fact, it’s costing her extra money — sometimes in the form of parking tickets, she said.

Nancy Moussa, who operates Salon@13 in Railroad Square, said she bought an annual parking permit, but on many occasions the permitted spaces are occupied. That forces her to put money into a meter to park in an hourly space, she said.

“I pay for an annual parking permit, however the permit/paid parking spaces that are allotted are always filled with (hourly) paid parking folks,” Moussa said about a municipal parking lot on Wingate Street, a short walk from her salon. “The permit parking is extremely limited and is not usually available, so I then must pay again to park via a meter.”

Moussa’s complaint is among several concerns expressed by drivers since Haverhill adopted paid parking downtown 11 months ago.

Moussa said the annual parking permit works for her when there are available permitted spots. But if she cannot find one of those spots, she looks for a “multi-use’’ spot, which are available to drivers with permits as well as drivers who pay hourly to park. Often, she said those multi-use spots are taken up by hourly parkers, leaving none for drivers with permits.

“I pay for a permit, but I’m not guaranteed a spot,” Moussa said. “There are some spots behind The Tap (restaurant) but it’s a long walk to my business.’’

Moussa said she often parks in front of her business in spaces that are limited to two hours of free parking until 3 p.m. If she’s still parked there after that time, she puts money in the meter, she said. But on several occasions, she got to the car too late and found a ticket on it.

“It’s a struggle to leave a client in a chair to have to go out at 3 (o’clock) to pay,” she said. “We’re always watching the clock.”

She said the answer is for the city to put aside more spaces for people like her who buy permits.

David Van Dam, chief of staff for Mayor James Fiorentini, said one intention of the paid parking plan that was put into effect downtown last August was to free up spaces in front of businesses such as Moussa’s salon. Those spaces would be freed up by having downtown business owners, their employees and downtown residents park in designated lots, according to the plan.

Van Dam said municipal parking lots that are close to Railroad Square include the Wingate Street lot, which has 79 spots, 33 of which are multi-use; a lot at the corner of Locust and Essex streets that has 42 spaces, 26 of which are multi-use; one on Locust Street that was converted this year to 28 permit-only spaces; and a lot behind The Tap Restaurant that has 81 spots, 24 of which are multi-use.

“There are permitted spots throughout the downtown, and if you can’t find a spot in one lot you can go to another,” Van Dam said.

“The goal for the mayor was to get residents and employees to not park in front of the businesses and to give customers a chance to park in front of a store or restaurant or other business,” he said. “We want to move residents and employees away from storefronts, and it’s working.”

But, Van Dam said, the program is still being tweaked. He said the city’s parking commission continues to meet to evaluate feedback from downtown residents, businesses and city councilors.

“August 1 will be our year anniversary and we’ve been massaging the plan to make it work for everybody,” Van Dam said. “The plan isn’t going to make 100 percent of people happy, but the majority of people are.”

Moussa said the parking plan does have its advantages, including freeing up spaces that were formerly taken up by people who took the commuter train and were parking on the street for hours at a time. She said the new parking garage also helped to free up on street parking spots.

“I respect that the city is trying to make things better, but by giving out so many parking tickets it’s discouraging to the business owner,” she said.