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City conducts survey in developing master plan for downtown parking

Merchants speak out about enforcement, difficulty finding spaces

January 22, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Many parking spaces were taken on West Washington Street in downtown Hagerstown on Thursday.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

City of Hagerstown officials are conducting an online survey with the aim of developing a master plan for parking in Hagerstown’s downtown area.

The city chose Rich & Associates Inc., a consultant and planning company from Southfield, Mich., to oversee the plan.

The survey, which will be conducted online only, is a way for people who live and work in Hagerstown, or who visit, to get involved, said Eric Deike, manager of Hagerstown’s Public Works Department.

The survey has several options for all types of downtown users, such as business or property owners, employees, residents, frequent customers and visitors, University System of Maryland at Hagerstown students, out-of-town visitors and infrequent visitors.

Focusing on the areas with parking decks, lots and on-street spaces, the survey asks questions such as how frequently people visit the downtown area, where they go and where they park. It also asks for suggestions of how to improve the parking system, as well as thoughts on costs and enforcement.

“What we’re trying to do is find out a realistic idea about our parking system,” Deike said Thursday. “Is it adequate? Is it adequate for the next economic boom, should it get here? The time to get prepared for that is now.”

Some business owners said they consider the biggest issue to be better enforcement of metered on-street parking.

“I want to see them enforcing the parking,” said Kelly Renner, owner of Carol & Co. at 25 W. Washington St.

Renner said her customers have been having a difficult time finding on-street parking since May. Several employees of nearby businesses use metered parking while working, Renner said.

“I want people who work downtown to not be allowed to park at the meters all day long,” Renner said. “They should be required to park in the garage or parking supplied by their employer. They should not be parked on the street at the meters.”

Renner said she often sees the same people parked in spaces near her shop come out and put money in the meters throughout the day, or just move their vehicle a few spots away to avoid ticketing.

Chris Grossnickle, owner of Brickyard Grill at 15 W. Washington St., said he has spoken with city officials and they know his stance.

Grossnickle said he would like to see more available spaces for people who want to stop for a quick bite to eat or do a little shopping.

Sheila Faulkner of Boonsboro was shopping Thursday morning and found a parking spot in front of Carol & Co. She said it’s always difficult to find parking in that area and she sometimes has to circle the block several times until a spot comes open.

“Sometimes I just give up and leave,” Faulkner said. “I was so excited when I saw this spot. That never happens.”

Rachel Fox and Jenni Jones, managers at The Potomac Bead Co. at 53 W. Washington St., said the No. 1 complaint they hear from customers is that it’s hard to find nearby parking.

“It’s hard for them to find spaces,” Fox said. “I think the garages are a great idea.”

Fox said free parking on Saturdays boosts business and on-street spots are more plentiful.

She said if metered rates cannot be reduced, then she would like them to stay the same.

The city currently uses 30-minute-, two-hour- and 10-hour-limit meters at rates of six minutes for a nickel, 12 minutes for a dime and 30 minutes for a quarter between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The meters are free on weekends, as well as the New Year’s Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Grossnickle and Renner said long-term parking, such as that for employees working downtown, should be in one of the city’s two public decks — at 25 N. Potomac St. and 25 Renaissance Way, off East Washington Street — in public lots or in private lots owned by employers.

“Most towns around here would love to have two parking decks like that,” Grossnickle said.

Current rates in the parking decks are $1 per hour, with an $8 maximum, from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., Deike said. After 4 p.m., motorists can park all night for $1. Passes are available for $60 per month in the decks and $46 per month in the city’s three public parking lots, he said.

Deike said the Potomac Street deck is seldom used on weekends, but the other, the Arts & Entertainment deck, is busy on Saturdays and Sundays because of its proximity to nearby bars, restaurants and The Maryland Theatre.

At 49 S. Potomac St., Ben’s Flower Shop has been in business since 1973. Owner Pat O’Brien said much of his business comes from call-ins rather than walk-ins, and the lack of on-street parking makes pickup difficult for people on the go.

Adequate parking is paramount for downtown businesses, he said.

“There’s too many other places (outside of the downtown) that are more convenient” for shoppers, O’Brien said. He noted that any retail business opening a downtown shop would be “making a mistake.”

An employee at another South Potomac Street business said an influx of people attending shows at the theater in the evenings and on weekends creates even more of a strain on local customers seeking nearby parking.

Deike said the Public Works Department began overseeing the system, which has more than 2,000 total parking spaces, in 2008, and took over enforcement in July 2011. Two part-time civilian officers handle enforcement duties, Deike said.

Deike said the Public Works Department might change the way enforcement is handled, but the department’s current goal is to “strike a balance between enforcing the law and not being a hammer.”

“We know we want people to visit downtown, but we don’t want to pound on them,” Deike said. “We try to strike a balance with our enforcement.”

The parking survey can be found online at www.surveymonkey.com/s/HagerstownParkingSurvey until Jan. 31.

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