HAVERHILL — The mayor and City Council are having a political tug of war over changes to paid parking spaces downtown, forcing merchants and residents who want the changes to wait.
Last week, councilors rejected a request from Mayor James Fiorentini to give his Parking Commission the power to make changes on its own to spaces in two downtown lots and on Washington Street. The changes were requested by downtown merchants and residents, the mayor said.
The council’s decision is forcing those businesses and residents to wait until the Nov. 13 council meeting for an answer.
Last week, four of seven councilors supported giving exclusive control of the paid spaces to the Parking Commission, but five votes were required for passage. So this week, the council officially received the mayor’s request for changes to the parking spaces, but tabled consideration for 10 days, as required by council rules. The council is expected to vote on the changes at its Nov. 13 meeting.
When the city adopted paid parking downtown nearly three months ago, Fiorentini encouraged merchants and residents to speak up if they wanted changes.
If the changes sought by the mayor on behalf of residents and businesses are approved, hourly parking spaces in the public lot in across from Maria’s restaurant would be converted to multi-use spaces that can be used by people with permits. At the Merrimack Street parking garage, the opposite is planned. At the request of restaurant owners in that part of downtown, 22 permit spaces would be changed to hourly, metered spots for short-term parkers.
And 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.
In early August, 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, 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.
Last week, Councilor Michael Hart was among the councilors who unsuccessfully supported giving the Parking Commission power to make changes to downtown spaces without consulting the council.
“I don’t think it’s in the city’s best interest to have the council micro-managing the Parking Commission,” Hart said at the time. “We should rely on their good judgement on the spaces.”
As for adding the free 15-minute spaces on Washington Street, some councilors said they favor that proposal because Andino’s Pizzeria needs convenient parking or its customers will go elsewhere. Other councilors said it’s not fair to make that kind of change for one business when there are many other downtown merchants who would like such an arrangement.