The Town Council heard Tuesday from merchants and residents opposed to an expansion of paid parking in the town’s commercial districts.
The town currently has a mix of paid parking and free but time-limited spaces in its commercial areas. It is considering a conversion to paid parking, while designating some free spaces, in the three business districts between Hammon Avenue and Wells Road.
The change was recommended last month by the council’s Business and Administrative Committee, which has been studying the parking issue for about two years. The two-member panel, made of Bobbie Lindsay and Lew Crampton, who chairs it, said paid parking would increase the turnover of spaces, which it said would be good for residents and businesses alike. The lack of turnover, especially on Worth Avenue, has been cited by residents and some businesses as a headache for years. But some merchants have said paid parking would drive customers away from the avenue.
The parking issue was not on the agenda for discussion at Tuesday’s meeting. But residents and business owners were free to offer their opinions about it during a portion of the meeting set aside for public comment.
Edward Kassatly, a resident and longtime merchant on Worth Avenue, said paid parking is not necessary on the avenue and would be hugely unpopular. “Look at your population age,” he told the council. “Wait until 60-, 70- and 80-year-olds try to work their darn apps … you are going up the wrong road.”
Kassatly questioned the wisdom of the town spending $200,000 for a consultant, The Corradino Group, to perform a traffic and parking study. “Talk to the [local] people, who know what’s going on,” he said.
Kassatly and Lori Bernstein, a resident who owns a store on South County Road, both said they can understand why the town charges $6 an hour to manage parking near the public beaches. But “everywhere else, this should not even be a discussion,” Bernstein said. She said everyone agrees that there aren’t enough parking spaces on the island. But she said the shortage should be solved by using private parking lots.
“It’s hard enough to compete with Amazon,” Bernstein said. “We really need to support our local businesses … paid parking will not do that.”
Jennifer Marcello, a resident and owner of Cafe L’Europe restaurant on South County Road, said she is “totally opposed” to paid parking. “I don’t think we have a parking problem on South County Road at all,” she said.
Marcello thanked Crampton for suggesting Tuesday that the town should consider development of a public-private parking garage to help address the shortage of available street spaces.
“We need it,” Marcello said. “I’m sure if we created a multi-level parking garage, it would totally alleviate the problem on Worth Avenue.”
Mayor Danielle Moore noted, however, that Worth Avenue stores have the privately owned Apollo parking lot on Peruvian Avenue available to them now “and [they] are choosing not to use it.”
Employees of Worth Avenue stores contribute to the problem by parking their vehicles in the free, two-hour limited spaces near or in front of the stores where they work. The employees go out and move their vehicles every two hours to avoid getting a ticket.
Moore has said it’s up to the store owners to control that problem. “Nothing this council does will make those employees [park] in the spaces on the Apollo lot,” she said.
Linda Olsson, resident and real estate broker, said paid parking throughout the business districts just isn’t needed. The existing parking enforcement system, with its $60 ticket for parking violations, is working, she said.
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” Olsson said. “The people I spoke to may have to go around the block once or twice, but they do find a [parking] spot.”
There are about 1,900 street parking spaces in the business districts between Wells and Gulfstream roads, according to the Police Department. About 60 percent are free but time-limited; parkers must pay to use the remaining spaces either through a kiosk or by using the ParkMobile cell phone app (there are no kiosks on Worth Avenue, which has a mix of free and paid parking).
Some of those who addressed the council were under the impression that, if there is a conversion to paid parking, some customers will remotely extend their parking time through the ParkMobile app, leaving their vehicle in a space for several hours, so there would not be an improvement in turnover.
But Palm Beach Police Lieutenant Paul Alber said that the town could control the guidelines for use of the ParkMobile app, thus limiting the time that people could take up a paid space.
Council President Margaret Zeidman said some people are reaching conclusions when they don’t have all the facts. She asked for patience while the town goes through the study process and works to educate the public.
“There is a lot of misinformation,” Zeidman said.
The council voted 4-1 in December to accept the Business and Administrative Committee’s report, which included the recommendation to convert the business districts to paid parking. Councilwoman Julie Araskog dissented, saying she is concerned that many residents don’t have a cell phone or won’t be able to use the app. She noted the average age of the town population is about 68 years old.
But a final decision has not been made and no plan has been adopted, Zeidman said. The matter is still in the hands of the committee, which next meets on Jan. 19 at 9:30 a.m. in the public meeting chambers at Town Hall. The committee’s decisions are recommendations to the full council, which has sole authority to make any change.
If the council ultimately approves paid parking throughout the business districts, the change will be implemented gradually, without parking meters, Lindsay said.
“We are not at the ‘run’ stage, at all,” Lindsay said.
Araskog said the $200,000 parking and traffic study would take months to complete. The study is needed to gather data to legally support any changes to the parking program that the council may adopt, she said.
Lindsay noted that 18 free but 30-minute time-limited spaces have been introduced on Worth Avenue as part of the recent decision to introduce paid parking in the 400 block of that street. More of the free 30-minute spaces may be designated elsewhere in the future, she said.
Crampton has said the committee isn’t looking at paid parking as the only solution to the problem. It is recommending town staff study the possibility of setting up valet stations on Worth Avenue and North County Road. The panel is also recommending that town residents receive a discount so parking would cost them less than out-of-town visitors would pay.