By Ruby Truax
It’s not news to anyone that we have a parking problem in our town.
There are four municipal parking lots downtown with 150 spaces in total, plus some parking along side streets. The town allows two hours free parking along Main Street as well, but during special events such as last weekend’s SnowFest, when Main Street is closed off, those parking spaces are lost. So during special events, and particularly in the summer months with the influx of visitors, municipal parking in our town is woefully inadequate.
But that’s not the whole problem.
There are a number of private parking lots in town, totalling about twice as many spaces as the municipal lots. These private lots are clearly posted as reserved for clients only, but are routinely abused by people who park in them without patronizing the businesses. This is frustrating not only to the business owners, but to their customers as well, who find the lot full and have to search for another place to park. The police don’t have the authority to deal with parking violations on private property, nor do they have the resources. So private lot owners have to resort to towing unauthorized vehicles.
During SnowFest this past weekend, the owner of one of these private lots charged $5 for unauthorized vehicles to park for the day. Not an unreasonable fee by any standard, but many people were outraged, and lashed out on social media. The gist of the complaints was, “We’ve been parking there for free for years. How dare he charge us?”
It’s hard to understand this feeling of entitlement about not only this lot, but all of the private lots in town. The owners pay taxes, insurance and maintenance for them, so they have the right to decide who they allow to park on their property. The argument that “we’ve always parked there” doesn’t mean it was acceptable, nor that it has to continue.
Every summer this parking problem gets worse, particularly during special events. But it doesn’t solve anything for people to lash out at private parking lot owners for trying to control who uses their property. They have no obligation to take up the slack. If you find yourself circling around and around trying in vain to find a parking space, don’t look with resentment at empty spots in private lots. Focus your frustration in the right direction.
Our town often approves development with insufficient parking by charging a “Parking-in-Lieu” fee, which only exacerbates our parking shortage. The new development at 19 Main Street East is an example of this. Fourteen more commercial units downtown, but not enough spaces created for customers and employees to park.
Maybe it’s time for our town to stop allowing this exemption and concentrate on creating sufficient parking in our downtown. Perhaps the owner of the private lot at 96 Main Street would be interested in selling. It’s almost two acres, and offers more than just parking in terms of options to expand for other activities.
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