Business owners to protest meter hikes

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Some three months after parking rates rose to $1.75 an hour, local business owners will push to rollback fees until new multi-space meters arrive.

Danielle Romanetti opened Fibre Space a store for knitting enthusiasts on North Fayette Street more than a year ago, hoping to create a home for local yarn aficionados. Now shes watching customers not willing to carry a pocketful of quarters or risk a parking ticket slip away.

Its supposed to be a community where they sit and hang out. Theres a public workstation to browse the Internet and look for ideas. This is not a run in the door, run out store, she said. We are hearing every single day, I have to go, my meter is running out. [Customers] are not spending as much money and theyre frustrated, because they cant participate in the community here.

Romanetti is one of several city business-owners planning to picket City Hall for a return to the $1 hourly rates before the councils 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday. Until the arrival of multi-space, credit card-friendly parking kiosks, the new rates will put a damper on consumer spending, said Kim Putens, a local business owner spearheading the demonstration.

People are running in and out, not spending time in our stores. The more time they linger, the more they spend, she said. This has been one of the issues that everybody is aligned on: citizens and business owners and now the restaurants are in an uproar.

The fee hike was handled as part of the public budget process, meaning public hearings were held. But Romanetti and Putens claim the new rates snuck up on them and their peers in the local business community.

We are so busy running our businesses, its hard for us to pay attention to everything the city is doing, Putens said. [Were] juggling a small business and struggling to keep it afloat and most of us have families. Its just not a whole lot of time for everything else.

Its understandable some would have missed the meter discussions, Vice Mayor Kerry Donley said, but he didnt know what else officials could have done.

Could we have done more? Yeah, maybe, but we did a lot with the Old Town parking study and the public hearings we did hold, Donley said. You can do a whole lot and there is still somebody who disagrees and wants more. Sooner or later you have to make decision and were elected to make decisions.

Officials raised the rates to encourage off-street parking, but Romanetti complains there isnt enough space in area parking garages. Discouraging shoppers is about all the new rates have done, she said.

Whether the uproar from business-owners will force officials to rollback the fees until new meters arrive sometime in the next six months remains to be seen. But the city council will take their concerns into consideration, Donley said.

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