A group of Durham residents is concerned the city’s paid on-street parking will limit their access to the Durham Center for Senior Life on Rigsbee Avenue.
“People who are senior citizens, if they are leaving and going back home, they are reducing their socialization,” said Gloria Evans Hawkins Rentrope, 71, a participant and volunteer at the center.
The $5.5 million center opened in 2006. It was built with county money on land provided by the city and is run by nonprofit Durham Center for Senior Life, which has three other senior centers in Durham.
Rentrope said the roughly 60 free spaces in the center’s parking lot are often full, and the new parking meters on nearby streets are causing some seniors to turn around and go home.
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Many of the people who use the center are on fixed incomes, she said, and can’t afford the additional expense.
Berta Summers-Pugh, 73, said if she paid the $3 for two hours of parking three times a week it would cost her about $36 a month.
“That’s a lot of money,” she said.
Plus, the two-hour time limit is frustrating for people who may stay at the center all day enjoying activities such as exercise classes, card games and arts and crafts, they said.
“I’m 73 years old. I don’t need to have that kind of worry,” Summers-Pugh said.
If fewer people use the center, it could affect its budget, Rentrope said.
Summers-Pugh, along with five others, presented a petition to the City Council on Thursday signed by 300 people asking the city to remove the parking meters near the center at 406 Rigsbee Ave.
Other potential solutions, they said, include not ticketing vehicles with decals from the senior center.
Mayor Bill Bell said city and county officials are working to address the issues.
“We understand the concerns that have been raised; we just don’t have an answer today,” Bell said.
County Manager Wendell Davis, who wasn’t at the meeting, said county officials are exploring solutions.
Some seniors attend the center daily, he said.
“We can’t have elderly people in a predicament where they one don’t have a place to park,” or have to walk a long way, Davis said. “It’s just trying to provide a convenience for our seniors.”
On Feb. 27, the city installed new meters to charge $1.50 per hour for 1,000 spaces in and near downtown, the American Tobacco Campus, the Durham Performing Arts Center, West Village, the Brightleaf District, Durham Central Park, the Durham County Human Services Complex and the North Corporation and Geer Street District.
In general, meters within the city’s downtown loop limit the parking to an hour while meters outside the loop allow two hours.
Critics have expressed concern about the one-hour time limit in central downtown and its impact on diners and say the parking is an expense that will limit low-income residents from enjoying downtown.
Others, however, say they are grateful that the parking was free for so long. They said they understand the measure as downtown’s popularity increases and the city seeks to promote parking turnover and collect fees to pay to maintain and build new parking decks.
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The parking meters and paystations are programmed to allow an individual to pay for parking in 30-minute intervals.
The fine for parking at an expired meter or not paying a parking meter is $20. The city began parking enforcement on March 6.
Generally, two-hour parking is located in areas outside of the downtown loop. Customers who desire to park for periods longer than one hour, the city encourages them to use one of the off-street parking garages or surface parking lots, which do not have time limits.