Carrboro aldermen discuss charging for downtown parking

CorrespondentMay 15, 2013 

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— The Chapel Hill Town Council’s decision to charge drivers using town-owned park-and-ride lots has the Carrboro Board of Aldermen debating parking fees in its downtown.

The Town Council recently passed a $250 annual fee for park-and-ride lots to coincide with UNC’s decision to begin charging drivers to park in the university’s park-and-ride lots in August.

The Board of Aldermen is worried that drivers who don’t want to pay those new fees may start abusing Carrboro’s free parking.

The park-and-ride lot fee could be charged at Carrboro Plaza if the owners agree. Matt Efird, assistant to the town manager, said the town is still waiting to hear back from the plaza owners.

For now, most of the aldermen support stricter enforcement over charging.

“I think we need to something quickly,” Alderwoman Jacquie Gist said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “Already, people use our parking and get on the bus. I see it all the time, I see it every day. And I don’t want to be the crazy woman on the J bus yelling at everybody for misusing our parking, but sometimes I am.”

Gist suggested posting more two-hour signs, banning overnight parking signs in certain lots and implementing towing.

“I don’t want to charge for parking,” she said. “I think fee for parking is one of the reasons why some merchants in downtown Chapel Hill have really struggled.”

Transportation Planner Jeff Brubaker said a 2008 town parking study found 20 percent of drivers who parked in municipal lots were parking for more than three hours. The study did not indicate whether the drivers were students, employees, or individuals parking for another purpose.

Alderwoman Lydia Lavelle also agreed that parking should remain free.

But new Alderman Damon Seils, who replaced former Alderman Dan Coleman, challenged the town’s free parking.

“We are offering a whole lot of free parking in the middle of downtown Carrboro and not enforcing the restrictions on it,” Seils said. “I agree that we should enforce it at the very minimum, but I am actually not sure that enforcement is really going far enough.”

Seils said parking fees in downtown Carrboro would cover the costs the needed enforcement.

“By simply enforcing the restrictions on our free public parking (we) would be losing an opportunity to actually start treating our parking downtown as one integrated system that we can manage in a better way, so people are not abusing the parking and it’s turning over so our businesses are actually getting use out of it,” he said.

Mayor Mark Chilton said parking fees in downtown Carrboro did not receive enough support from the board.

“I think those who feel there should be some change there need to do some more leg work outside of this meeting to make their case and that most of us are not there in terms of being interested in moving away from having free parking in downtown,” Chilton said.

Alderman Sammy Slade proposed a motion, passed unanimously by the board, to pursue a downtown parking plan informed by the goals and values of the town.

The board plan to revisit the parking discussion, particularly the topic of unbundled parking where parking spaces are sold or rented separate from associated land uses, at the board’s June work session.

Mansur: sarah.mansur91@gmail.com

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