DUNEDIN – City of Dunedin commissioners took another step Aug. 25 toward establishing a downtown parking system, but they also plan to address some questions that linger over the multi-faceted issue.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve an ordinance that allows city officials to charge for parking in certain areas and spells out fees, methods of enforcement and other criteria associated with the system. The final reading of the ordinance is set for Sept. 8. Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski cast the dissenting vote, saying other options should be explored.
Under the parking management system, expected to take effect in October, 51 percent of affected parking spaces would be free and 49 percent would require payment. The city plans to use pay stations to collect the fees.
Among the questions raised by residents at the meeting was how special events would be affected by the system.
City Planning and Development Director Greg Rice said staff has “just scratched on surface” on special events, such as whether promoters should be charged for lost revenue if parking is free.
He said city officials would bring back a recommendation to commissioners. Eighteen events draw huge crowds to downtown, such as the annual Mardi Gras and Dunedin Wines the Blues celebrations.
“We want to work out a proposal for you to decide whether you would like to charge the vendors, charge the people coming or just waive it completely on those big days,” Rice said.
“That’s a really interesting dynamic,” Commissioner Bruce Livingston replied.
Under the 12-month pilot program, paid parking would be enforced from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
City officials are proposing the fees be $1.50 an hour for on-street parking spaces, the marina lot, the historical museum parking lots and certain paid lots off Main Street. For off-street paid parking spaces, the proposed fees would be $1 per hour. The plan includes a 20 percent resident discount.
Revenue from the paid parking stations is expected to be used to fund costs associated with the management of the overall parking system, parking leases, and a future parking garage.
Commissioners thanked residents for the feedback and staff for their work the system.
Commissioner Deborah Kynes said the parking problem is one of the most complex issues she’s addressed in her 12 years of service as a commissioner.
Noting that the city is not meeting the increased demand for parking, she said vertical parking is the highest and best use of all parking, and user fees will provide the revenue source for a second parking garage.
“The downtown is the living, breathing heart, and it is the heart of our Dunedin. It pumps out the blood for the rest of our community,” she said. “Can you imagine not having a downtown where you can go and see and do? It took many years – many community leaders … and many volunteers to achieve our Dunedin.”
Livingston agreed with Kynes that the issue is about increased demand and decreased supply. He said he supports a user-based system as opposed to a tax increase.
“We have got to increase turnover,” he said. “We got to save for the future parking structures. I think that’s something we have all agreed on. That’s the next goal. That’s next step. And to get there, fortunately or unfortunately, it’s going to take revenue to do that.”
Plans for the first garage are in the works. Developer Joe Kokolakis, through an agreement with the city, is expected to build a parking garage as part of a mixed-use project in the 900 block of Douglas Avenue. Plans calls for a total of 195 public parking spaces.
Commissioner Heather Gracy said the process hasn’t been easy, but staff continues to show that the city needs the system, noting that the city could lose 100 spaces by Christmas.
She said commissioners need to get “ahead of it … rather than react and find another vulnerable lease.”
However, she expressed concern that residents still have to pay for the system.
“Somebody show me a way please through this pilot program that we can alleviate most of that,” she said.
Gracy said she is not a fan of parking meters, but added it’s at least a convenient process. If it’s not, commissioners will hear about it and react to it.
The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency recognized the parking problem in the early 2000s, Commissioner John Tornga said.
Staff has been involved in numerous meetings on the parking issues, he said, and the pilot program that is proposed may still be changed through resolutions.
“If this doesn’t work, if you think more land is going to be produced for us to use, that’s not going to happen. Land will only disappear now here. That’s what it has been doing for more than 10 years.”
If city officials don’t achieve the requirements to provide parking for downtown, “it won’t be pretty,” Tornga said.
“If we do achieve it, we are going to have a vibrant downtown and will continue with that. Flexibility is the key, and I appreciate all the work that everybody has done,” he said.
Ward Bujalski said she was concerned about the timing of the implementation of the pilot program, preferring that the first parking garage be built before the city starts charging for parking.
She noted that the Ocean Optics parking lot off Douglas Avenue will be lost in addition to the lot just to the north where the mixed-used development and garage will be built.
“I feel like people who are very used to Dunedin are going to come down and see that there’s going to be a big loss of parking and then they are also going to have to pay – I think it’s going to be a double whammy on the psyche of the people coming to downtown,” she said.
She also is concerned about the funding side of the program. Though staff has looked at parking concepts that worked around the country, the commission wasn’t given more than one funding option, she said.
“It was either paid parking or no paid parking,” she said.
She said commissioners didn’t analyze the city’s Penny for Pinellas fund or bring in a consultant to explore public-private partnerships that the commission could undertake.
Some residents, as they have at many other meetings, expressed objections to paid parking.
Jim Riley, a city resident, contended the program has been sold to the public as a one-year pilot program, but the way the ordinance is written, it calls for permanent paid parking.
“By definition, a pilot program has a mandatory end date and evaluation period to weigh the merits of continuing it,” he said.
He said the ordinance could be repealed by two separate City Commission votes.
“A pilot program would make the commission vote two times to continue it,” he said.
City officials said language referring to the “pilot parking management system” was added to the ordinance at the request of the Local Planning Agency.