An open letter signed by several prominent Uptowners is asking Mayor Steve Noble to either scrap entirely or put off for a year the plan, set to go into effect April 1, to begin charging people to park in municipal lots.
“We believe the plan is the wrong one, and that if the changes proceed, they will hinder growth, and otherwise negatively impact our city in numerous ways,” reads the letter on the web at kingstonfreeparking.com. As of about 4 p.m. on Jan. 6, over 320 people had added their signatures to the letter.
A meeting on the issue has been scheduled for this Sunday, Jan. 8 at 8 p.m. at Kovo Rotisserie on North Front Street. Kovo’s owner, Maria Phillipis, is one of the “founding signatories” of the letter; others include O+ Festival co-founder Joe Concra, artists and Uptown residents Denise Orzo and Kevin Paulsen, Evolving Media owner Dan Stone, business owners Jen Donovan, Theresa Widmann Sari Botton, Brian Macaluso and Tarah Gay and residents Steve Lieber and Cassandra Currie.
The letter argues that the plan, which would raise the price for on-street parking from 50 cents to $1 per hour and for the first time begin charging 75 cents an hour to park in city lots, would do more harm than good. Low-income workers and apartment dwellers would be unfairly burdened, businesses will lose both patrons and employees and visitors would be deterred from visiting Uptown and take their money elsewhere.
“We believe that the municipal lots must remain free. A free municipal lot is a courtesy to visitors that says, ‘Welcome to our city,’” the letter reads. “It encourages people to come and spend their money here. It provides a long-term option for residents and employees of uptown businesses who don’t have on-site parking.”
Contacted Friday, Jan. 6, Mayor Noble wrote in an email that he welcomed feedback and discussion about the parking issue, and noted that prior to the adoption of the new fee structure as part of the city’s 2017 budget, he used several methods to get the word out about what he was doing and why, including postings on social media, numerous interviews with local news outlets and several appearances before local organizations, including the Kingston Uptown Business Association, the Pike Plan Commission and the Business Alliance of Kingston. The public’s input, said Noble, was also sought at a budget forum last summer, through an online survey and during Common Council and Finance Committee meetings in the months leading up to the budget’s December 2016 adoption.
“The city maintains 10 public parking lots, nine of which it owns. In addition to regular maintenance, the city is responsible for the capital improvements of all ten lots,” wrote the mayor in a Jan. 6 email. “This means that every taxpayer within the city, regardless of whether they own a car or use these lots, are paying for their daily maintenance, lighting and insurance, along with the long-term costs of capital improvements. In order for the city to continue to maintain these facilities, revenue must be brought in to offset the expenses.”
Noble acknowledged that the city needs more parking but repeated his oft-stated opinion that city government isn’t in a position to unilaterally finance it. “I agree with many in the community who have expressed the need for more parking infrastructure, either lots or a garage,” he wrote. “It is not feasible for the city to build these facilities itself without far exceeding the tax cap. However, the city is in the process of reviewing responses to its recently released Request for Qualifications to potentially work with a partner to develop the old parking garage site, with a paid public parking garage required for any new build.”
The mayor wrote he would “welcome” the opportunity to present his plans to Uptowners in person and respond to questions and comments.