City looking to ease parking issue

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 26, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Upping fines for parking violations might help solve some of the growing parking problems in downtown Suffolk.

Traffic generated by the new businesses that have opened recently on North Main Street -specifically, the School Board’s move into Professional Building and the opening of Baron’s Pub -are leaving motorists frustrated and the city hustling to find short-term fixes to the problem.

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Plans are in the works that will eventually result in a new parking lot being built behind along East Washington Street, behind the Buy Rite building and the BB&T at the corner of East Washington and North Main streets, said Elizabeth McCoury, the city’s downtown coordinator. The project is still in the negotiation stages now.

Plans also call for a parking garage to be built within the next few years.

Also, she said, the city’s traffic department is examining proposals that would create additional on-street parking along Saratoga Street.

But for now, McCoury said, the city’s focus is on encouraging people who park downtown all day to take advantage of the new city’s newly refurbished Cherry Street parking lot and better enforcement of on-street parking restrictions.

Later this spring, city staff is expected to recommend that the City Council considering raising its parking fines. For example, the current fine for overstaying the allowed time is a choice downtown street side parking space is $6; the new proposal would lift that to $10.

The city has also a team of police recruits responsible for handing out parking tickets to vehicles that overstay their allocated welcome.

Andy Damiani, president of the Downtown Business Association, applauded the city’s beefed up enforcement of existing parking restrictions, saying that is something the business community has been desiring for years.

&uot;You have to find a balance because you don’t want to alienate shoppers from coming downtown,&uot; Damiani said. &uot;Business owners don’t want to see squatters parked in the spaces all day long.&uot;

He said he is unsure whether the minimal fine increase will address the real problem: habitual offenders. For example, he told of one downtown merchant who parks on the street outside his business daily. He manages to avoid tickets by moving his vehicle a couple of feet – enough to make sure that the chalk line police have marked on his back tire is no longer visible – every two hours.

Increasing parking fines shouldn’t have a negative impact on tourists visiting the downtown area, said Lynette Brugeman, the city’s director of tourism.

&uot;I think it would make people more cognizant of how long they can park in a space,&uot; said Brugeman.

In fact, the biggest offenders of parking violations are probably residents, she added.

&uot;Typically, when I go to another city, it is not unreasonable to expect to pay a handsome amount to park and to then have to walk three of four blocks to reach my destination,&uot; she said. &uot;We have become accustomed to driving instead of walking right up to the door of where we want to go.&uot;

Like Damiani, Mike Williams, owner of Baron’s Pub, isn’t sure increasing parking fines is the answer.

With limited public parking around his restaurant at the corner of North Main and Market streets, Williams is hopeful the city will make changes that will make parking more accessible to his customers.

&uot;It’s creating an inconvenience for customers trying to get from the car to their restaurant, particularly at night,&uot; he said. &uot;We would like to see more outside lighting at night and street parking would be convenient, especially along Market Street.&uot;

Wachovia has been generous in letting Baron’s patrons use its parking lot at night, Williams said.

But on more than one occasion, customers who have parked in reserved spaces for residents of the Towers have gone outside to find their vehicle stowed. According to a sign outside the eatery, residents of the facility have to call Boogie’s, an automotive facility on Carolina Road, to get their vehicle back.

Marcus Williams, owner of Boogie’s, would not comment for this article. A spokesperson in the Commissioner of Revenue Thomas Hazelwood’s office said last Friday that Williams is not licensed to be towing vehicles.

Although he isn’t licensed to tow, police said that Williams has followed the other basic state laws related to towing vehicles from private property, including notification of police dispatchers when a vehicle is being removed from the Towers. A sign listed behind the Towers lists a phone number where for people to call regarding the return of their vehicles.