HAVERHILL — Downtown resident Jim Mamonas says he is beyond frustrated with trying to find a handicap parking space.
He lives in the Finney Block at 52 Washington St. and usually parks across the street in the driveway leading to and from the Wingate Street lot, where four handicap spots are located.
"At one time I didn't have much of a problem finding a space there," said Mamonas, who has a heart condition along with mobility issues. "With an increase in the downtown population, it's getting more difficult to find a spot."
Mamonas said there's a dire need for more handicap spots downtown for people who use wheelchairs and crutches so they don't have to hunt for a parking space as he does.
He outlined his concerns to the planning and development committee when it met Thursday night in City Hall. That committee is headed by City Councilor Joseph Bevilacqua and also includes councilors William Macek and Tim Jordan.
"I told them that when I first began living here in 2011, there was a parking problem then. But now it's become a safety issue with an overpopulation of vehicles and not enough spaces," Mamonas said. "It's only going to get worse when they finish several developments that are in the works, including the Al Forno building and the former Haverhill Music Center."
He believes it's a pressing issue.
"The city created a problem no one knows how to fix," he said.
Mamonas wonders if the city is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for not having enough handicap spaces.
He said that when he first moved into his downtown condo, the former owners told him that hardly anyone used the four handicap spots located just inside the Washington Street entrance to the Wingate Street lot.
"I didn't have any problems parking back then. But now, it's hard to find a spot even in the middle of the week," Mamonas said. "On Saturday nights in particular, I drive around and around and around to find a space. Last Saturday, it took me over an hour to find a space after attending 4 p.m. Mass at St. James. I feel like I'm a prisoner in my own city."
Bevilacqua said that anyone with a handicap placard can park in any parking space without fear of receiving a ticket, although he recognizes there just aren't enough parking spaces in the downtown to meet the growing needs of residents and businesses.
Mamonas said it's hard to find any space as they are usually taken by people who are shopping, dining or doing other business in the downtown.
"I agree with Jim that parking is an issue in the Washington and Wingate areas, which I've been saying for three years," Bevilacqua said. "I'm very concerned that we have three major housing projects that are not yet occupied and supposedly have space reserved in the MVRTA garage, which I'm concerned is being filled."
Bevilacqua said he's presented several ideas to the city, including building a parking deck in the Wingate Street lot, one behind the former Sons of Italy, and adding onto the MVRTA's garage on Granite Street.
"We have to look at the number of handicap spaces, determine what the requirement is and if additional spaces are needed and where they can be provided," he said.
Bevilacqua said his committee is sending letters to various city departments, including the city engineer, building inspector, the mayor and DPW asking for a review of handicap spots in the downtown.
"The success of Washington and Wingate streets is a positive thing, but it's also creating some problems we need to address," Bevilacqua said. "The goal is to keep these streets very competitive for businesses and residents alike."
Macek said the city just doesn't have enough parking for those living, working and doing business downtown.
"We need to have our city engineer review our allocation to ensure we are compliant with state regulations for the minimum amount of handicap spaces and locations," he said. "I"m not sure we're currently complying with the state standard."