(April 16, 2013) The conclusion of the city’s budget hearings last week saw the City Council commit to a number of revenue-boosting and cost-cutting measures, including further additions of paid parking and heightened inlet lot rates on weekends.
At least one of the parking additions, however, appears likely to be contested by nearby property owners.
Though City Engineer Terry McGean warned that the inlet lot had seen a sharp decrease in total hours paid for after the 2010 parking rate raise, the council voted to increase the weekend fee at the inlet from the current $2.50 per hour to $3.
“We’re not going to see any drop in parking there if we raise it to three dollars,” said Councilman Joe Mitrecic, citing the council’s optimism that the prime location of the inlet lot would make it immune to further price hikes, despite cheaper parking elsewhere in town.
“It’s like a restaurant,” said Councilman Doug Cymek. “You can get the salisbury steak, but a certain number of people will always go for the filet mignon.”
According to McGean’s data, paid parking hours dropped from around 1.1 million in 2009 to 900,000 in 2010. Even if weekend hours are separated out of the statistic, the decline in demand is still close to 20 percent, and has been decreasing more every year.
But even with an additional 20 percent drop in use factored in, McGean estimated that the weekend increase to $3 would net the city close to $100,000 more in the coming year.
The council also moved to add parking meters – in the form of Cale Systems electronic ticketing machines, which have become universal in the resort – to four previously free stretches of parking in the resort that have a mostly commercial or day-tripper clientele.
McGean had identified a number of such areas, which he theorized would present less resistance than areas where residents or property owners rely on the spaces for personal use.
“You have to take small steps, see how it works out, and give people time to adapt,” said Mayor Rick Meehan.
One of these areas is the west side of Philadelphia Avenue, below North Division Street, an area of the resort’s downtown that had previously been spared parking fees on the theory that downtown workers would be able to take advantage of the free parking.
That effect, however, appears to have run its course.
“Even today, when we’re not running the meters, you’ll see that everybody parked on the west side and nobody parks on the east side,” McGean said.
“The point of the meters was to turn people over for the businesses,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “Our concern should be more that the businesses need a stream of customers. They need employees, too, but their employees can get to work other ways,” such as taking the buses.
The other three stretches of paid parking will be found on the ocean block of 146th and 49th streets, as well as on 131st Street between Coastal Highway and Sinepuxent Avenue. The latter two blocks are almost exclusively used for nearby bars and restaurants, McGean found.
“I know, on 131st, that the Crab Bag is expanding and is going to pick up 53 spaces, so I think that would be a good move,” Cymek said.
Paid parking on Ocean City’s side of 146th Street had been proposed some years prior, given that the Delaware side of the street charges for parking, but had been met with resistance.
“I think the opposition came from the condo to the south, not because they were using the street themselves, but that they were concerned [parking fees] would push people into illegally using their parking lot instead,” said city Public Works Director Hal Adkins.
Earlier this week, Ron Deacon, president of the Ocean Place Condo Association, sent a letter to the city again renewing the building’s objection to the move.
“I have never understood why a city government decides to implement a policy that significantly affects some of its taxpayers, yet does not feel the need to let them know ahead of time or give them an opportunity to express their view,” Deacon wrote. “I would hope that the desire for revenue would not encourage the city government to ignore the well being of a small group of its citizens.”