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With some Town Council members and merchants raising concerns about details, it appears a plan to convert the town’s business districts to paid parking won’t occur before early 2024.
At its meeting Tuesday, the council asked the Police and Public Works departments for a progress report at its Nov. 14 meeting based on Tuesday’s input.
There are about 1,900 on-street parking spaces in the three business districts between Wells and Gulfstream roads. Roughly half are free with a one- or two-hour time limit, according to the Police Department. The remainder are paid parking through the ParkMobile app.
Town Manager Kirk Blouin, the police department and a Town Council committee tasked with the parking issue have all recommended converting the free commercial-zone spaces to $5 an hour. They’ve said that will improve space turnover and create a more uniform and data-driven approach to parking management.
After three years of study and discussion, the council’s Business and Administration Committee, headed by Councilman Lew Crampton, recommended a seven-point parking management plan that includes an expansion of paid parking with the ParkMobile app.
Crampton said the plan is not a cure-all for the town’s parking woes but will make an “appreciable dent” in the problem.
“This is going to be flexible,” he said of the plan. “Continuous improvement is going to be the goal.”
In May, the council voted 4-1 in favor of the plan. Parking kiosks have been removed in areas of town that already have paid parking, including the popular Midtown Beach area, where the rate is $7 an hour.
The plan also includes the introduction of free half-hour parking spaces in the Worth Avenue shopping district and a resident parking decal program that will allow residents to park in paid parking spaces for up to two hours without having to use the ParkMobile app.
Residents will pay $50 a year for a decal and can purchase two decals per household. The decal program could start as early as next month, according to staff.
Other components of the seven-point plan include new road signs to direct drivers to parking opportunities, the creation of valet stations in business districts, free rideshare programs, and improved parking enforcement.
Parking enforcement is being achieved by boosting the number of enforcement officers from 5 to 6, police Lt. Paul Albar said.
On Tuesday, the council requested changes to the design of new paid parking signs so they will be easier for drivers to see. It also asked staff to designate some free half-hour spaces in the South County Road business district, where some shop owners have said they’re concerned the transition to paid parking will hurt their businesses.
“Five dollars an hour to park is a little excessive for someone coming into my business for just a few minutes,” said Carrie Bradburn, owner of Capehart Photography.
Councilwoman Julie Araskog said she’s concerned about the impact of paid parking on the town’s small “mom-and-pop” shops.
“They may not be able to afford to [purchase] parking [placards] for all their employees,” she said. “I’m worried we’re going to lose a lot of them.”
Araskog dissented in the council’s 4-1 decision in May to approve the parking plan. She has also said she’s concerned many of the town’s older residents will have trouble adjusting to using the ParkMobile app.
Staff will also consider how to provide relief from paid parking for teachers and staff at Palm Beach Day Academy and Palm Beach Public School.
Fanning Hearon, head of school at the Day Academy, said it is spending more than $1 million to build a parking lot with 31 parking spaces for roughly half of its employees. But he said that would still leave about 30 employees paying $5 an hour for parking throughout their workdays.
He asked the council to consider suspending the paid parking requirement around the school from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. on weekdays when the school is open, which is 170 days a year.
The council plans future discussions about the rideshare and valet station components of the comprehensive plan.
The Rove rideshare company, based on Long Island, has proposed to operate a fleet of 10 new Teslas on the island. The service is similar to Lyft and Uber does not charge for rides. It earns its revenue by selling advertising space on its vehicles. Council members expressed reservations about “commercialization” of the island when Rove presented its proposal in September. The council is scheduled to discuss the proposal again in November.
West Palm Beach-based Circuit, which uses electric shuttles, already operates a rideshare service on the island.
There was some disagreement on the council over whether its decision to approve the parking plan in May included implementation.
Councilman Ted Cooney and Araskog both said they considered the May decision to be conceptual in nature.
But Crampton countered that it was a “broad brush” approval that left time for the staff and the council to iron out details before implementation. Council President Margaret Zeidman and Councilwoman Bobbie Lindsay both expressed a desire to recommend improvements and move toward implementation.
Crampton has said he would like to see the seven-point plan put in place during the coming season.
But the new parking signs won’t be ready before February at the earliest, according to staff. Cooney said he’s concerned that a mid-season conversion to paid parking in the shopping districts will create unnecessary confusion.
He and Araskog both suggested delaying the transition until after the coming season is over.