Merchants seek to curb meters, parking tickets

October 20, 1994|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

Annapolis merchants want the City Council to abolish metered parking downtown and slash the cost of parking tickets, undoing the most controversial parts of a new parking plan enacted in July.

The increased parking meter rates in the plan have sharply cut into their businesses, they plan to tell the council's Economic Matters Committee tonight.

"The sense is people are more concerned about the parking meters than what they're shopping for," said Ann Widener, president of the Business Association for Maryland Ave. and State Circle. "It's had a negative impact across the board, and our customer base has been forced to act like nervous shoppers."

The committee is to consider how best to implement the new law in the downtown commercial sector. The committee also will consider suggestions by an advisory group of city, business and residential representatives.

On July 1, the city enacted new laws doubling the cost of hourlong parking from 50 cents to $1 and increasing parking fines from $10 to $20. So far, only the higher meter rates are in effect because the new parking citations have not been printed.

The Downtown Annapolis Parking and Transportation Advisory Committee released this week detailed guidelines for the new commercial parking plan. To address concerns of critics who say parking fees are too steep, the group suggested lowering parking fines for drivers who pay promptly and allowing grace periods at expired meters.

But those concessions don't go far enough for many downtown merchants, who support a proposal by Ellen O. Moyer, a Ward 8 alderman, to send the whole parking plan back to the drawing board for several more months of study.

"No one ever talked about the economic impact of our decisions on the parking issue," said Ms. Moyer, a long-time opponent of the parking plan. "Let's set up an ad hoc committee to review a variety of different things relative to parking. Let's look at what other cities do to handle this problem."

But others in city government disagree.

Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins said the city is simply trying to bring street parking fees in line with garage prices. While the plan raises some revenue for the city -- Ms. Moyer estimates more than $1 million a year -- Mr. Hopkins said it benefits downtown residents who cannot find parking spots in their own neighborhoods. Increased meter fees and parking fines will drive more people off residential side streets and into garages, he said.

"If you can park for a dollar an hour to park on the street, then you can also pay a dollar an hour to park in a garage," Mayor Hopkins reasoned.

Ward 5 Alderman Carl O. Snowden, who chairs the Economic Matters Committee, said it's too soon to tell whether the higher meter rates and stiffer fines are hurting local business or improving life for downtown residents.

"Let's wait and see," he said. The unpopular components of the plan are part of a larger strategy to ease traffic congestion.

But some merchants are ready to amend the law now, and say waiting only hurts their businesses.

Bob Rice, who runs the Downtown Cycle Shop at the City Dock, said his business has suffered in the three months since the new meter rates were imposed. Many of his old patrons are shopping at bigger malls on the outskirts of the city because parking there is free.

Mr. Rice and other merchants have sent thousands of postcards to City Hall urging the aldermen to abandon the plan.

"I want the whole parking plan rolled back," he said.

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