Ne­wark de­lays park­ing rate hike

Busi­nesses ex­press con­cern over dou­bling of cost

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­pub.com

Fac­ing mount­ing crit­i­cism from the down­town busi­ness com­mu­nity, Ne­wark of­fi­cials have de­layed a plan to in­crease park­ing lot rates dur­ing the busiest times.

Un­der the plan for “peak” and “off peak” rates, which was sup­posed to go into ef­fect last week, the cost to park would double to $2 per hour Mon­day through Fri­day, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cur­rent $1-per-hour rate would re­main on week­ends, nights and dur­ing the sum­mer.

By rais­ing the rates, the city aims to in­cen­tivize vis­i­tors to park in univer­sity

park­ing garages or at park­ing me­ters on the out­skirts of down­town, thus free­ing up spa­ces for oth­ers.

How­ever, last week, sev­eral busi­ness own­ers ar­gued the move would in­stead in­cen­tivize cus­tomers to avoid down­town Ne­wark al­to­gether.

“It’s a tip­ping point for Ne­wark. This sends red flags up to the out­ly­ing com­mu­nity and Ne­wark res­i­dents alike – do not come to down­town Ne­wark,” Donna O’Dell Hoke, owner of Unique Im­pres­sions, told city coun­cil Oct. 23. “Ne­wark is not an is­land. There are plenty of places to shop and dine.”

She noted that her busi­ness’ pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als all high­light Ne­wark as a nice place to visit.

“If this park­ing rate in­crease does go through, what an id­iot I will look like,” Hoke said. “I will look a fool to en­cour­age peo­ple to come down­town so their wal­lets can get pum­meled ev­ery sin­gle time they visit us. You’re push­ing me right out of town with them, and I’m not kid­ding.”

Other busi­ness own­ers wor­ried about the im­pact the in­creased fee would have on em­ploy­ees. Monthly park­ing per­mits are ex­tremely lim­ited in quan­tity, so most down­town em­ploy­ees pay for park­ing by the hour, un­less they live within walk­ing dis­tance. Re­cently, the Univer­sity of Delaware be­gan al­low­ing Main Street em­ploy­ees to buy monthly or yearly passes to park in the univer­sity’s lots, but they can only be used at night and on week­ends.

Joe McCoy, owner of Cather­ine Rooney’s, said the in­crease will be a hard­ship for his cooks and servers.

“A lot of peo­ple can’t af­ford it,” McCoy said. “They’re go­ing to be look­ing for other jobs. I would love to in­crease their wage by an­other dol­lar to off­set it, but I can’t in­cur that cost as a busi­ness, ei­ther.”

Bar­bara Day, who works full­time at Unique Im­pres­sions, said she pays about $60 per week to park, which would in­crease to $120 un­der the new rate struc­ture.

“I’m will­ing to pay more; I’m not will­ing to pay that much more,” Day said.

Char­lene Bertheaud, owner of Heart and Home, said many of her cus­tomers al­ready dread com­ing down­town be­cause of the park­ing sit­u­a­tion.

“How long will it be un­til we as a busi­ness have to move off of Main Street just to sur­vive?” she asked rhetor­i­cally.

She told coun­cil she didn’t know about the pro­posed in­crease un­til one of her em­ploy­ees read about it in the news­pa­per.

The park­ing fee changes were un­veiled Sept. 27 at a sparsely at­tended af­ter­noon meet­ing of the plan­ning com­mis­sion’s park­ing sub­com­mit­tee, with lit­tle no­tice to the pub­lic or busi­ness own­ers.

The plan quickly got a stamp of ap­proval from the com­mit­tee, which in­cludes just two busi­ness own­ers – Lee Mik­les, co-owner of Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, and Chris Locke, gen­eral coun­sel for Lang De­vel­op­ment Group and the owner of For­mal Af­fairs – nei­ther of whom are af­fected much by park­ing lot fees. Both their busi­nesses have pri­vate lots and are lo­cated on the east end of Main Street, where on-street park­ing is of­ten eas­ier to find.

The pro­posal was men­tioned again at the Oct. 2 city coun­cil bud­get work­shop. Though it took a back­seat to more press­ing and com­plex bud­get is­sues, most coun­cil mem­bers in­for­mally sig­naled support for the in­crease.

Un­der city code, only park­ing meter fees re­quire a for­mal vote by coun­cil to change. Lot rates are con­trolled by the city man­ager.

At last week’s meet­ing, Coun­cil­man Jerry Clifton said he would like to see that law changed.

“It re­ally needs to be a con­ver­sa­tion at the ta­ble,” Clifton said, not­ing the level of op­po­si­tion to the rate hike. “If I’m go­ing to get the calls and let­ters telling me how wrong it is, I at least want it to be some­thing stupid I did.”

Mayor Polly Sierer later re­minded Clifton that he was one of the coun­cil mem­bers who sup­ported the in­crease Oct. 2.

“You are ab­so­lutely cor­rect. I did say that,” Clifton ad­mit­ted. “I would have to apol­o­gize to our busi­ness own­ers out here, [for] not fully un­der­stand­ing the laws of un­in­tended con­se­quences.”

He added that he now feels dou­bling the rates is “un­think­able.”

Coun­cil­man Chris Hamil­ton, though, re­it­er­ated his support for the plan.

“I’m not go­ing to apol­o­gize for want­ing to have a park­ing in­crease. Let’s just make that clear. Folks, your ex­penses have gone up and so have the city’s,” Hamil­ton said, though he did add he is wor­ried about the ef­fect an in­crease would have on em­ploy­ees.

Coun­cil is ten­ta­tively sched­uled to dis­cuss the park­ing rates again on Dec. 11. Along with the peak/off peak plan, coun­cil will also con­sider a pro­posal to in­crease the cost of park­ing at me­ters in the core down­town area – Main Street west of Chapel Street – from $1.25 an hour (12 min­utes per quar­ter) to $2 an hour (7.5 min­utes per quar­ter.)

Mean­while, lesser-used me­ters east of Chapel Street would be re­duced to $1 an hour.

Also in the works is a pro­posal to elim­i­nate the city’s sub­si­dies for park­ing val­i­da­tions. Busi­nesses would still have the op­tion to val­i­date their cus­tomers’ park­ing but would shoul­der the full cost, rather than half as the cur­rent pol­icy spells out.

The city loses $60,000 to $80,000 each year due to val­i­da­tion sub­si­dies, of­fi­cials said.

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