HAVERHILL — The mayor and City Council are close to a compromise in their tug of war over downtown’s paid parking spaces.
That’s good news for merchants and residents who asked for changes to some spaces, but have been waiting for city leaders to make a decision.
Last month, the council rejected a request from Mayor James Fiorentini to give his Parking Commission the power to make changes on its own to paid spaces in two downtown lots and on Washington Street. The changes were requested by downtown merchants and residents, the mayor said. The council rejected the proposal, however, with those opposed saying they want to retain oversight of paid parking.
Last week, Fiorentini submitted a new proposal that would, if passed, give him the authority to make temporary changes on his own that would be in effect for up to 45 days. During that span, the mayor would to convince councilors to sign off on the changes or they would revert back. Councilor William Macek was the first to float the idea of such a compromise.
“There are times when the city is going to need the flexibility to respond quickly to new conditions,” Macek said. “But I still think the council should retain the final say, so residents and business owners have a place to go when they have concerns or questions about something the city is doing downtown.”
Fiorentini said the compromise would allow him to make immediate changes to paid spaces, recommended to him by residents and businesses. Those spaces are in the public lot across from Maria’s restaurant, in the Merrimack Street garage and on Washington Street.
However, he said the primary reason he wants to be able to make changes in the future without a prolonged process involving the council is so the city can quickly modify parking rules this winter during and after snowstorms.
“When snow piles up, we’re going to have to adapt and move some things around to accommodate people,” Fiorentini said. “We need to be able to do this without going back to the council every time.”
The council is expected to consider the new proposal at its Nov. 13 meeting. At the same meeting, councilors are expected to vote on the mayor’s specific proposals involving the Maria’s restaurant lot, the Merrimack Street garage and Washington Street.
In the Maria’s lot, he wants to convert hourly, metered spaces to multi-use spaces that can be used by people with permits. At the garage, the opposite is planned. At the request of restaurant owners in that part of downtown, 22 permit spaces would be changed from permit spaces to hourly, metered spots for short-term parkers.
On Washington Street, three “loading-only” spaces reserved for business deliveries would be tweaked to allow free parking for anyone for up to 15 minutes. This change is designed for customers of nearby businesses, including Andino’s Pizzeria at 64 Washington St. The spaces are near the front of the pizzeria.
The city began to charge drivers to park downtown in August. 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, residents and train commuters from using on-street parking, and therefore free up those spaces for businesses customers and other short-term visitors to the area. Officials have told businesses, residents and others to let them know how it’s working and that the city will continue to tweak the plan.