Faced with major opposition from Uptown residents and business owners, Mayor Steve Noble announced a major revision to his proposal to place payment kiosks in all city-owned parking lots. But Noble characterized the change, which would in effect suspend payment for parking in the lots for many, as a temporary measure intended to ease the transition rather than a permanent retreat from his original proposal.
Under the new plan, announced on Monday, frequent users of the lots will be able to purchase an annual parking pass for 2017 for just $10. The pass will allow holders to park in any of the nine city-owned lots without paying further fees. Non-permit holders will still have to pay 75 cents per hour to park in the lots.
The change represents a major step back on Noble’s earlier promise to end free parking in the city. Under the original plan the parking permits for municipal lots would have cost $40 a month or $400 annually. The deeply discounted fee, Noble said, was just enough to cover the costs of processing the permits.
Other elements of Noble’s plan, including a doubling in the cost of metered on-street parking from 50 cents to $1 an hour and a $5 increase in fines for parking at an expired meter, remain in place. Noble also plans to install the payment kiosks on April 1 as originally envisioned.
Noble’s announcement comes after growing protests over the plan to end free parking in the city. Complaints were loudest in the Uptown business district where parking is at a premium on weekdays and hundreds of residents and employees of neighborhood businesses rely on the free municipal lots for their daily parking needs.
According to organizers, a petition to stop the payment plan gathered 400 signatures in a matter of hours and as of the afternoon of Wednesday, Jan. 11 was approaching 900 signatures. On Sunday, Jan. 7, Noble attended a meeting at Uptown eatery Kovo Rotisserie, where residents and business owners warned that ending free parking could put the brakes on a nascent economic revival in the neighborhood.
“People who are coming here to shop will go elsewhere if they continue to get tickets,” said Wall Street boutique owner Karina Cousineau. “Just as the city is becoming revitalized, this could really hurt.”
In an emailed response to questions, administration spokeswoman Megan Weiss-Rowe said Noble had come up with the $10 annual permit in response to concerns voiced by city residents and business owners since he announced his proposal to end free municipal parking back in October. Virtually free parking plan, Weiss-Rowe wrote, was intended to ease the transition and create more time for discussion.
“By offering this nearly free annual permit the Mayor feels we are responding to a request for extended time to discuss long term parking needs and resources,” Weiss-Rowe wrote.
Weiss-Rowe acknowledged that changes to the mayor’s plan could create a shortfall in a projected $175,000 revenue line for lot parking included in the city’s 2017 budget; $100,000 of that money was slated to cover maintenance and upgrades to the lots. Weiss-Rowe wrote Noble was confident that with non-permit holders paying full price, the revenue shortfall would be modest enough to move forward with incremental improvements to the parking lots.
The new parking fees are part of a broader package of fee increases that Noble proposed and the Common Council approved as part of the city’s 2017 budget. Noble said the fee increases were intended to shift more of the burden for specialized city services, like parking, from taxpayers at large to those who actually used them. Noble has said that the revenue generated by the new parking fees would be reinvested into improving and modernizing the city’s parking infrastructure.
“Parking challenges may not be unique to small cities like ours, but our city can be unique in how it responds to its challenges,” Noble wrote in a memo announcing the new fee structure. “I have heard from our community members, evaluated their requests and have incorporated some of these requests into what I am confident is a fiscally and socially responsible parking plan.”
Wright tapped for garage development
Noble used his State of the City speech to announce that, after more than a decade of false starts and lack of interest, a developer had come forward to take on the task of redeveloping the site of a former municipal parking garage in Uptown Kingston.
Noble said that Kingston-based architect Andrew Wright had responded to a request for proposals to develop the site on the corner of North Front and Schwenk Drive. A plan to replace the garage with a 12-story hotel and condominium complex was abandoned in the mid-2000s after developers ran into resistance over the building’s height and design. In 2008, the garage was demolished over safety concerns for the aging structure and replaced with a grade-level parking lot accessed from Schwenk Drive. Since then, at least three “requests for proposals” to redevelop the site have been issued by the city, only to go unanswered.
The latest RFP calls for a mixed-use design to include housing and retail elements. The plan also requires developers to include public parking, either at the site or elsewhere in the Stockade district. Noble said that Wright’s plan would face “strict milestones,” including a six-month time frame to come up with plans, 12 months to arrange financing and 18 months to submit the entire project to the city’s planning board for site plan approval.