She recalls attending the National Main Streets Conference held this spring in Baltimore by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in which the sort of system the county is planning was recommended for historic districts such as Ellicott City's.
"They did that on Main Streets all over the country and it worked out fine," Besson says.
Matthew and Lexi Milani, who own The Rumor Mill restaurant off Main, say the parking plan makes sense, putting Historic Ellicott City in step with parking rates in Baltimore's Fells Point and Federal Hill and downtown Annapolis.
Where Arditti sees an impediment to visitors, Matthew Milani sees an incentive. He says he's been asking the county for help "getting business down here, adding value to the town." The new system's mobile application could give his restaurant staff information on parking they can convey by phone to customers who do not have the app.
"It's a service we can offer to our guests" says Milani, who opened the restaurant five years ago in a space that had been vacant for two years. He sees the parking plan as "modernizing Ellicott City" and doesn't understand the opposition.
"We appreciate the county wants to make this investment in the historic district," Lexi Milani says. "This is the first major investment the county has been willing to make after all these parking studies."
Indeed, the issue has been chewed over since at least the 1940s, as the Ellicott City Business Association reported in notes presented at a meeting with County Executive Ken Ulman in 2007. There's been a stack of recommendations and plans, including one study done in the 1970s as part of a Historic Ellicott City planning report, another in the 1990s and most recently in 2009.
The three reports include recommendations about new parking lots, possible shuttles and garages. All raise the point about abuse of Main Street parking by shopkeepers and employees contributing to the impression that parking is scarce on the sloping, narrow street of stone, brick and wood buildings.
Desman Associates, the consultants who did the 2009 study, found that parking in six lots and on the street is not scarce, and they did not recommend a new garage. They urged the county to do a better job of managing the parking it has and to begin charging $1 an hour for parking on Main Street and Maryland Avenue. Because of the narrow sidewalks in Ellicott City, Desman did not recommend multispace pay stations for on-street parking, but the county has chosen to install them.
"No one has taken this challenge on up until now," says Ulman. He says the consultant's report prompted his administration to begin researching parking management, coming up with a pavement sensor, pay meter and mobile app system made by Streetline, a California company. According to the company's website, versions of the system are being used in such cities as Los Angeles; Fort Worth, Texas; Indianapolis; and in parts of the University of Maryland campus in College Park.
Ellicott City will be the first community in Maryland to use this parking approach, Ulman says. He says the system will not only help run the parking, it will be collecting information on how the spaces are used, which are the busiest, and where and when the parking need is greatest. That information will be used to adjust the system, perhaps showing that parking shuttles are needed.
He says the purpose of the project is to support Historic Ellicott City, and he does not accept Arditti's argument that imposing new charges for street parking would discourage visitors.
"We just disagree strongly," Ulman says. "If we thought that was going to happen, we wouldn't be moving forward."
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