Some business people say rollout has fallen short on information
Several changes to downtown parking in Charlottesville will take effect Tuesday morning.
Parking meters on Water Street, Market Street and nearby side streets will begin charging $1.80 an hour Monday through Saturday at 8 a.m. Vehicles will continue to be restricted to a maximum stay of two hours, but the rates will now be charged until 8 p.m., two hours later than the existing limit.
However, motorists will get a break for the first week.
“We do have a courtesy notice that will be issued the first week,” said Rick Siebert, the city’s parking manager.
The City Council authorized a six-month pilot of the parking meters in April 2016 as a way of encouraging increased turnover of spaces. This came after a pair of studies that recommended charging for street parking and encouraging downtown employees to park in municipal garages.
The first hour of parking in the Market Street garage will be free, and every hour thereafter will cost $1.50. That’s a decrease from the existing $2.50 hourly rate.
The hope had been to extend the same rates to the Water Street Parking Garage.
“We have thus far been unable to reach a settlement with the Charlottesville Parking Center, and so the Water Street garage will continue its current operations for at least the near term,” Siebert said.
The city and CPC are locked in a legal battle over a series of issues, including the rates at the Water Street facility. The CPC owns the underlying land, but the building and parking spaces are jointly owned and governed by a condominium association.
“The Water Street garage will continue to operate as is,” said Dave Norris, the general manager for CPC. The cost there is $2 an hour, but the garage will continue to offer two hours of validated parking by participating businesses.
However, the existing validated parking will be discontinued at the city-owned Market Street garage.
To address the parking needs of downtown employees, the city has created a $6.50 voucher that will allow for all-day parking in the Market Street garage.
Siebert said vouchers can be obtained from Lanier Parking Solutions, which operates the Market Street garage, by calling (434) 284-5620 or stopping by their offices in the garage at 108 Fifth St. NE between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays.
Additionally, the city now offers a park-and-ride lot at the Charlottesville Area Transit headquarters on Avon Street Extended, which is on CAT Route 2.
Stu Rifkin, owner of The Nook, a restaurant on the Downtown Mall, said he doesn’t have a problem with the meters but had many questions about how the new system works. For instance, he didn’t know about the two-hour limit and didn’t know about the voucher program.
“We haven’t got a lot of information except for what we read in the news,” he said.
Rifkin also questioned how free parking in the Market Street garage would work, given that it frequently fills up. He also was alarmed when a subcontractor drilled holes for meters right next to the spot on Fourth Street where Heather Heyer was killed and dozens were injured during the Unite the Right rally Aug. 12.
“The city’s got a lot of issues,” Rifkin said. “If I was the city, I wouldn’t be rolling anything out right now.”
The city held a meeting with downtown businesses on Aug. 15 about parking, but some are concerned the outreach has not been enough.
“We were never given instructions on how the meters work, nor how the voucher system works,” said Joan Fenton, chairwoman of the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville.
“I don’t know how many businesses really understand the changes, and it would be good to have a handout to give to customers and to businesses to explain,” she said.
Some of the meters cover multiple spaces and require drivers to enter a license plate number. Other meters cover individual spaces. All will accept credit cards and coins.
Siebert said the city has directions for the meters at charlottesville.org/parking.
“We also have printed brochures on meter operation and parking options available,” he said.
The city will not have additional personnel on the street to help people with the meters. Roanoke employed that strategy when its six-month pilot began in July.
With this being an election year, it will fall to the next City Council to decide whether to continue the pilot or to change the way the meters work.
The Lynchburg City Council opted earlier this year not to proceed with a paid parking pilot program in the city’s downtown area.