About 40 members of the public offered opinions about the city council parking committee's proposal to revamp parking in the downtown area at the Warren Public Library Tuesday evening.
Greg Wilson, city intern, addressed the group saying, "It's awesome to see this many people show up. This is how government is supposed to work."
He said the goals of the plan are to eliminate an annual $173,000 deficiency from the parking fund, to increase turnover of parking near commercial enterprises and use public comments to improve the proposal.
The plan includes retaining free two-hour parking on sections of Market, Liberty, Hickory and Poplar north of Third Avenue; three -hour metered parking on sections south of Third except for Poplar and various 30-minute, 15-minute and permit parking in other downtown areas.
The meter parking proposal suggested a two-dollar per hour rate, a one dollar per hour in the midtown lot, and a reduction to 30 dollars per month for the parking garage to encourage downtown employees to use the garage. The comments came in spades.
Julia Tarr thanked the committee for considering the public input, but, "I don't agree. This is going to hurt business. It doesn't solve ongoing problems like people abusing free parking."
Dan Ristau said he wasn't sure how he felt about the plan, and that he hadn't received much input from his customers. He did comment about the spaces near his business, however. "You cannot take all the spaces outside my shop and turn them into 30-minute parking. It cannot be different than the rest of the downtown area."
Piper VanOrd said, "Two dollars an hour to park is hefty, hefty. We bring 13,000 people a year to the area... When someone drives for two or three hours to buy canoes and kayaks, it's not a 15-minute purchase. Two dollars an hour, no doubt about it, will definitely hurt our business."
Marcy O'Brien had researched other cities parking fees and noted that $2 an hour matched a similar rate in midtown Manhattan, and Abby Johnson said it was the same across the street from the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
Johnson said she thought the plan was too confusing, especially for visitors. Sue Spencer said that everyone understands how meters work.
Two Hazel Street residents, Melissa Boreman and Max Brady, said overflow parking on their street made resident parking difficult at times, especially for Boreman who doesn't have a driveway and must rely on street parking.
A number of comments proposed free 30-minute parking before fees kicked in, similar to the current setup at the midtown lot.
Committee member John Lewis said he had opposed the $2 fee from the beginning, and "Enforcement levels in the past have not been sufficient." He added, "The only way to get people into 'Big Blue' (the parking garage) is to make it financially unfeasible" to park elsewhere and with fines.
Bob Ruhlman said that the perception for residents is that expensive mistakes have been made in the past, and that perhaps this was another mistake.
Howard Ferguson, committee member, said, "The people in the city of Warren have been subsidizing parking, and we have been hearing over and over that some people have been abusing the system. People of Warren have consistently said that the meters are the right choice, but we are going to have to have a very hard conversation about $2 parking."
It is certain City Council will revisit the parking plan over the next few weeks. No date has been set for approval of a new plan.