Downtown shop owners: Paid parking a priority | SierraSun.com

Downtown shop owners: Paid parking a priority

David Bunker

The political process could be the last hurdle for a paid parking program in Truckee’s downtown.At a meeting Wednesday to discuss the parking situation, a consultant hired by the Town of Truckee to help solve the parking dilemma warned against “spillover” from paid parking that could clog residential spaces downtown.But merchants urged the town to move fast to institute a paid program as the solution to downtown’s parking predicament.The meeting reviewed how to effectively use Truckee’s 1,000 downtown parking spaces and gave residents and business owners a chance to voice comments on Truckee’s downtown parking overload. Ron Foster, the town’s parking consultant, said that either the town can attempt to better utilize and manage the key 350 spaces in the commercial core or institute a paid parking program.Some of the issues were obvious. Truckee needs more short-term parking downtown, while leased lots – both public and private – are underutilized, Foster said. He recommended that the fire station lot along Commercial Row that charges $5 for four-hour parking be added to the two-hour parking supply. “Definitely there is a shortage,” Foster said. “And the turnover is good, so it’s not like there is an abuse [of the spaces].”Other issues – like raising in-lieu parking fees for new development, what paid parking would do to commerce downtown, and who will pay for a paid parking system – were a little more controversial.Raising in-lieu fees, money that property owners pay rather than creating parking spaces, could turn back the clock on downtown’s revitalization, said Cabona’s owner Stefanie Olivieri.”I agree [the fee] may be too low,” said Olivieri. “But if it is too high the downtown may stagnate.”Others said that the current in-lieu fee level encourages property owners to pay the fee rather than creating the parking that is needed in downtown. Foster recommended raising the in-lieu fee from its current $5,634-per-space level.What effect paid parking could have on downtown business will likely be known only after the fact, but the downtown merchants voiced their support, saying the revenue could finance additional spaces and increase parking turnover.”We’ve been flat for so many years because we can’t get bodies through the front door because they can’t find anywhere to park,” said Jerry Wood, White Buffalo owner and Downtown Merchants Association president. If paid parking goes into effect, the town may want to eye a residential permit program, so residents of downtown are not squeezed out of parking by shoppers hunting for free spaces, Foster said. The costs of a increased management or paid parking program could be started by using the in-lieu fee money that the town already has, said Truckee Director of Public Works Dan Wilkins.”There is no such thing as free parking. The question is who is going to pay for it,” Wilkins said. “If there is going to be any improvement in the situation, there is going to have to be the money to make it happen.”Creating a property-based assessment district to pay for the program is also an option, although unpopular with downtown merchants.The comments will be sorted out by the parking committee before the parking study comes before the planning commission in the fall. The earliest people could have to pay to park downtown, if the town council decides that is the solution, is by early next summer, said Wilkins.For more information go to http://www.sierrasun.com. To view a copy of the downtown parking study go to the Town of Truckee’s Web site at http://www.townoftruckee.com