Parking plans draw crowd
A crowd of business and property owners gathered to offer input
at Boone's parking charrette held Tuesday.
Nearly 40 people attended the meeting to identify parking interests and offer possible solutions. The charrette was facilitated by Becky Veazey of the Management and Personnel Services (MAPS) group of Cary.
Steve McLaurin, director of McLaurin Parking the contracted company that handles parking in the town, began the charrette with an overview of parking.
There are 560 parking spaces owned and controlled by the town, including 217 on street spaces and 140 on Queen Street, 97 of which are metered. The town hall lot consists of 38 spaces, 20 of which are leased.
Parking occupancy figures show 60 percent full in the early morning and averaging 85 percent full later in the day, McLaurin said. Though there are moments of 100 percent occupancy.
"When the students are in town, we will have higher occupancy on street spaces. That shows the vitality of the town," McLaurin said.
Citations are issued for vehicles parking over the one-hour time limit, however parking validation stamps are made available to businesses. The stamps are based on municipal service district taxes paid. This program has been in effect 18 years.
"The businesses have the discretion as to parking validation," McLaurin said. It is up to the businesses to post signage informing customers of the validation availability.
The charrette then moved into the interest, or criteria for successful solutions, stage.
Several agreed there is a perception that there aren't enough spaces when needed. Melanie Patterson, owner of Melanie's Food Fantasy, said there are several parking areas that were not being utilized as well as they could be, including Queen Street and parking near the post office.
County commissioner and downtown business owner John Cooper said directional and informational signage would assist people in finding parking.
McLaurin offered statistics on the usage of the 97 metered spaces on Queen. There are 30 that are used frequently, 30 moderately and 37 that are rarely full. He added that spikes include well-attended funerals or large numbers of potential jurors.
Rich Jacobs, owner of Art Walk, said the town needs to manage the current inventory. He added the stakeholders would like information on the financial side of downtown parking, including revenue and the cost of the McLaurin Parking contract.
"We are in the dark. As business owners we have no idea," Jacobs said, adding that he has already requested the monetary figures.
Jill Reeves, downtown business owner, questioned the profitability of parking, asking why the town contracts out to McLaurin Parking.
"We are paid a flat fee and all money collected goes back to the town. We can do it cheaper than the town," McLaurin said. The exact flat fee was not stated as the meeting. McLaurin said he would have to check records, but would be happy to provide the information.
Dempsey Wilcox, downtown property owner, suggested creating increased parking turnover.
"People are parking longer than one hour," he said.
Reeves suggested the opposite, in setting two-hour time limits.
"I think one hour isn't long enough for people to do much," she said.
Other issues discussed during the interest phase included the possibility of a parking deck through a public/private partnership, satellite parking with shuttles to downtown, designated long-term parking for employees and owners of businesses, parking for tour buses and recreational vehicles, walkability, and safety concerns such as sidewalks.
Patterson said her employees struggle to park downtown, usually paying for metered spaces on Queen Street.
"As a business owner, I can't afford to rent the long-term parking spaces for each of my employees," she said.
Tuesdae Rice of the Downtown Boone Development Association suggested the program by clear and supported by all stakeholders, including residents, merchants, property owners, Appalachain State University, N.C. Department of Transportation and Watauga County.
"We should support alternatives to cars," said Greg Simmons of the town planning commission. "Not every solution to parking includes vehicles."
Mayor Loretta Clawson supported the idea of tour bus and RV parking, saying the town could attract more visitors by advertising this availability.
Several solutions were offered to achieve the interests of those in attendance, which mirrored the suggestions already discussed.
The most popular solution among the crowd was to begin enforcement of the one-hour time limit on Saturdays. Currently, parking enforcement occurs only Monday through Friday during business hours.
"It all goes back to enforcement on weekends," Jacobs said. "The streets are full and the businesses are empty."
Rich Jacobs offered a short-term solution to business owners in attendance, suggested they recommend their employees park in the Raley lot on campus on the weekends. The lot is free and open to the public on weekends when there is not a university event.
A representative of the parking department for ASU said signage could not be placed by the town directing visitors to park in the Raley lot due to legislation regulating university uses of land.
The stretch of King Street from Beanstalk coffee to Daylight Donuts was discussed as a problem area on weekends. Many residents in the nearby apartments and employees park there for extended periods of time over the weekend. The second solution to weekend monitoring was to add meters to that stretch of King Street.
Jacobs added increased fines would encourage better compliance with parking rules.
"We are just collecting $10 per a one-hour violation for people that abuse it," he said. "For some people that isn't a lot of money. I would like to see fines increased and the revenue go to the town."
Jon Tate, owner of LMS parking company which handles parking enforcement for several private lots in town, said the town should look at relaxing some of the ordinances regarding construction, such as setback requirements, to make building a parking deck more feasible. He added a public/private partnership with a long-term lease on the land beside town hall could allow for a parking deck.
Several people discussed the student usage of downtown parking while attending classes.
Council member Jamie Leigh and Wilcox both pointed out that one-hour parking was public and meant one hour for everyone.
"We can discriminate against the students," Wilcox said.
Utilities director Blake Brown said an open dialogue should be maintained with ASU, asking them to accommodate their enrollment and include parking in their master plan.
Bob Meier, owner of Doe Ridge Pottery, agreed with Brown, adding that ASU continues to build without added parking, while business owners can't increase capacity without meeting parking requirements in the unified development ordinance.
Lt. Tom Redmond said business owners need to be accountable for downtown parking as well.
"I see loading zone misuses and business owners playing the game by moving a car two or three spaces just to move the chalk line on the tire," he said.
McLaurin offered a solution to Redmond's comment.
The ordinance could be changed to limit moving only short distances, such as requiring one block or one half block of movement or set a timeframe to return to space, he said. Parking attendants have handheld devices capable of monitoring that movement, according to McLaurin.
The game-day parking plan put into place this season should be reevaluated, Wilcox said. All those in attendance agreed.
Cooper said there could be a task force formed to review all of the options brought to the meeting.
"There has always been a great deal of cooperation between the town, county and ASU," he said. "All have an interest in making the town viable."
He added that NCDOT and the DBDA should be included on the task force.
Other solutions offered included a trolly-style transit that make a continuous loop to satellite parking areas, more sidewalks, bicycle and motorcycle parking, the possibility of meters back on all of King Street, a public relations campaign on parking policies, and the use of the parking lot behind the post office that is currently unused.
"We need a price tag for all of these solutions before going forward to determine what we can afford as a town and as a community," said Morgan Murray, downtown property owner.
Veazey will take the suggestions offered at the charrette and compile a report. The council should receive this information in approximately one week. Town manager Greg Young said council will likely place the report on the agenda for discussion and review either at the January council meeting or the governmental retreat scheduled for February.
MAPS contracts through the N.C. League of Municipalities and has assisted the town of Boone in the assessment process in the hiring of the new chief of police and development services director.