Dunedin commissioners continue to tweak their pilot parking program, which is designed to establisha dedicated funding stream to have capital to increase the downtown parking supply.
DUNEDIN – If only a parking pay station had ears and could talk. No telling what government officials could glean from the remarks people make at the stations as they learn how to use the devices.
Pay stations, fees and other issues pertaining to the city’s pilot parking program continue to create discussion as city officials move closer toward making a decision on whether they want to maintain or scrap the program.
At a City Commission meeting Aug. 10, Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski asked that city officials organize a listening session with the public, possibly in October, before commissioners consider in November the fate of the controversial program.
City officials had tentatively set Nov. 2 as the date of their decision. The program includes free parking in several areas during the day and fees of $1.50 an hour where paid parking is required. It took effect Oct. 3.
Ward Bujalski said she wants to get community input, before the date of the vote, similar to what commissioners received at a listening session attended by about 200 people Jan. 4 at the Hale Activity Senior Center.
“Obviously, they will have an opportunity to speak here on Nov. 2, but I think whatever recommendations you end up making, I think the community input should be included in that recommendation that you come forward with,” she said.
Other commissioners said they were willing to hear more community feedback.
The session needs to be “sharply focused,” Commissioner Heather Gracy said, adding that she would like the community to understand the severe challenges that commissioners have lived with in the past couple of years pertaining to parking issues.
“I voted for it and I don’t like it. But I also don’t like to raise taxes, and we are running out of room. So, I would want those challenges to be keenly expressed, vividly expressed,” she said.
Meanwhile, staff continues to update information and churn out reports on different aspects of the system.
According to a July 31 report, as a result of the paid parking component on Main Street and in the other high demand areas of downtown, the plan is promoting parking turnover, which ensures convenient available parking for visitors.
In the past, many of the most desirable parking spaces were filled for long periods of time by merchant employees, trail users and/or Jolley Trolley users. With a turnover of three vehicles per day in the core area the downtown parking supply has been increased. The goal of the pilot downtown parking management plan, city officials say, is to establish a dedicated funding stream to have capital to increase the downtown parking supply.
A critical concern for a number of years has been at-risk parking areas. Dunedin Housing and Economic Development Director Bob Ironsmith noted that 41 spaces at Main Street and Douglas Avenue would be eliminated if the City Commission approves plan for mixed-use development in September.
“Those are 41 parking spaces that are heavily used within the downtown,” he said.
Other lots used for parking could be developed.
A parking garage, as part of another mixed-use development on Douglas Avenue, is expected to be ready for use in late December, Ironsmith said. It will have 195 spaces.
He also said 23 spaces will be created by angle parking on Douglas Avenue and 11 spaces have been created on Monroe Street.
“So, we continue to create parking stock where opportunities present themselves, but we don’t want to lose sight of the at-risk (parking) that is going away,” Ironsmith said.
The financial numbers, the July report says, show a healthy net revenue of $345,625 for the nine-month period despite a first quarter that faced the challenges of implementing a new system with only parking warnings instead of parking citations.
City commissioners also heard positive and negative remarks Aug. 10 about the parking program from business owners and residents.
Sue Adams, who owns an art studio on Douglas Avenue, said she surveyed 26 businesses about the parking program. Out of 26 businesses who were asked if they would like to maintain paid parking in town, 24 said no, she said.
“I think it’s important for you to know that it’s affected our businesses greatly,” she said.
She said the general message she heard from merchants was the system was convoluted and the pay stations were hard for people to figure out.
“There’s such a negative feeling about Dunedin now, and I think you are looking at these numbers … and maybe we should talk more about if there’s other solutions rather than paid parking to figure this out about our parking because you are killing businesses,” she said.
However, Kimberly Platt, owner of the Honu Restaurant on Grant Street, gave a different perspective.
Platt, the president of the Dunedin Merchants Association, said the organization plans to conduct a comprehensive survey of its 130 members on the paid parking program and share its information with the commission.
“We just want to give you our facts,” she said. “And speaking for the merchants association, all I want to say is that we want to make sure our guests have a place to park, and we are putting our faith in you guys to make sure we come up with the best solution for that, whatever it may be,” Platt said.
She added that her business is up.
“I’m thriving. I’m ecstatic to be saying that we are hopefully going to be building a tiki bar. That’s how well we are doing. That’s my own personal thing, but the merchants are going to survey that and give you guys the information.”
Along those lines, Ward Bujalski asked staff to conduct a similar survey of all businesses in the city affected by paid parking.
Staff and commissioners have been conducting quarterly reviews of the program, such as at the Aug. 10 meeting, and tweaking it. Perhaps the most substantial changes occurred Feb. 2 when commissioners voted to eliminate all time limits for parking. They also approved a staff recommendation that the east and west ends of Main Street be free for parking to all users Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Commissioner Moe Freaney said Aug. 10 she realizes it might not be possible for the staff to be ready by Nov. 2 for the commission to make a final decision on the parking program, but she doesn’t have a problem with that.
“In the end, I feel confident that everybody up here wants to do what’s in the long-term best interests of the community,” she said. “I know for myself I’m wide open on this. I want to do what’s best for us in the current and the long term. I think if we work together as a community we will get there.”
Tom Germond is editor of the Dunedin Beacon. He can be reached at 727-397-5563, ext. 330, or by email at tgermond@TBNweekly.com.