By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Council voted unanimously to make a pay-by-phone parking pilot permanent at its public hearing on Saturday.
The pilot program, which has been controversial since its inception in 2016, allows residents in Old Town to petition for their block to have pay-by-phone parking. Since 2016, the program has been implemented on 13 blocks. Vehicles without residential parking stickers must pay for parking on these blocks through a mobile app.
To become a pay-by-phone block, residents must submit a petition signed by occupants of more than 50 percent of the residential properties abutting the block, according to the staff report. Eligible blocks must either have existing metered spaces, be adjacent to an existing metered block or be adjacent to a block where a residential pay-by-phone parking fee has already been approved.
The pilot program was restricted to streets within the boundaries of the waterfront, Wolfe Street, Princess Street and Washington Street. With the proposal to make the pilot permanent, staff recommended removing the boundary so that blocks near any metered area would be eligible. Council, however, voted to maintain the boundaries.
The proposal first went to council for permanent approval at its Feb. 23 public hearing, but had to be deferred due to an administrative error. At Saturday’s public hearing, many of the same residents who spoke at the Feb. 23 hearing went before council again to state their approval or opposition.
Many of those who spoke in favor of making the pilot permanent live on blocks that either already have the pay-by-phone parking or are eligible for it.
“I just want to talk about how this has impacted the quality of our lives. It has made it so much easier to find parking,” resident Traci Patina said.
Of those opposed to making the pilot permanent, several people said the program put seniors at a disadvantage because of technology.
“I do not support technology-only payment for parking,” resident Barbara Beach said. “As implemented, the mobile pay has been a problem since the beginning for seniors and people without smart phones.”
Several residents also spoke about the prospect of adding pay stations on the blocks with the programs for some of those residents without smart phones. While the kiosks would make the program more inclusive, some said they would be eyesores in the Old and Historic District.
Lisa Eskew, speaking on behalf of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, spoke about the benefits of parking kiosks.
“We understand the historic preservation concerns,” Eskew said. “Considering what is fair, and that’s ultimately what we’re interested in … having a pay station available for patrons seems to be a reasonable solution.”
Those opposed to the project also expressed concerns about overflow parking on non-pay-by-phone streets that the pilot has caused.
“The residential pay-by-phone parking program pits neighbors against neighbors in Old Town,” Old Town Civic Association President Steve Milone said. “Many blocks adopt new pay-by-phone [fees], which pushes visitors to park on the neighboring blocks that don’t yet have pay-by-phone, making parking on those blocks more congested while doing nothing to contribute to solving the parking issues in Old Town overall.”
During council deliberations, Councilor Amy Jackson said because of opposition, she was in favor of making permanent the 13 blocks that have already implemented pay-by-phone parking, not the eligible blocks or others within the special parking district.
Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker said she agreed for the most part with Jackson, but thought it would be fairer to make the program permanent within the entire pilot area.
“There are several blocks within the black square that have petitioned to be in the program, so I think that it would be unfair to limit the program just to the streets that already have it,” Bennett-Parker said.
On a motion by Councilor Mo Seifeldein, the five council members present voted unanimously to make the program permanent within the special parking district area.