DUNEDIN — City commissioners slammed the brakes on staff’s recommendation to enforce a time limit on visitors parking for free downtown and charge for parking in city-operated lots and garages.
During a lengthy discussion recently Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said facts have changed during the city’s long experiment with paid parking downtown.
The mayor, who has long been an opponent of paid parking, said there are other ways to deal with the parking turnover issue, which many feel is mostly caused by employees of local businesses taking up prime spots.
The mayor said several major commercial projects, like Gateway and shops on Main and Douglas, will change the parking landscape in the next few years
City Manager Jennifer Bramley said the proposal, which would have adopted a time limit to park downtown, including a fine schedule, and fee to park at city lots and garages, was designed to create turnover of free spaces and a revenue stream to pay for its parking garage.
The issue was sparked about three years ago, when the city incurred the rancor of residents, merchants and visitors by installing paid parking kiosks downtown to pay for a parking garage at the recommendation of planning staff.
The 14 months of downtown’s paid parking trial have been filled with fierce public discussion, vitriolic social media debates, a deluge of feedback to elected officials and certainty that no issue has ever consumed the city staff or residents quite like this one.
After much debate and negative social media comments over several months, which pitted staff, visitors, residents and merchants against each other, city commissioners removed the meters.
Under the plan denied by the commission, Greg Rice, city planning director, said a three-hour time limit would be instituted every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. along Main Street from Bass Boulevard. to Alt. U.S. 19, on-street along Marina Plaza Drive, and on Douglas Avenue from Main to Skinner.
Paid parking would be instituted in the Monroe Street Garage, the 500 Wood Street lot and Edgewater Park lot. All three areas would be paid Monday through Friday from 6 to 10 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The parking rate in the paid areas would be $1.50 per hour or $5 for a one-day pass good until 10 p.m. on the day of purchase.
During the most recent hearing, downtown merchants filled City Hall auditorium to plead their case and ask commissioners to put any downtown parking plan finally to rest.
Many business people noted, since word got out that parking meters were removed, this summer locals and visitors have returned to downtown in great numbers. They told commissioners they don’t want to relive the rancor and turmoil caused by paid parking.
Commissioner John Tornga said, in talking with downtown merchants, he has heard a different story from staff assertions that many merchants approved the city’s revised plan.
Jane Sweeney, owner of MJ Fashions and Gifts downtown, told commissioners; "Customers are still raw about the whole paid parking fiasco from last year." She noted two customers who recently came into her shop where still talking about paid parking a year later.
Michael Lynn Bryant, co-owner of the Dunedin Brewery, spoke out against the time limit. He told commissioners, "we should not punish our guests by rushing them along. They want to hang out and explore downtown; Exploration takes more time than three hours. It’s not like people are here to get in and out like at the mall."
His father Michael Bryant, Sr. said the city hasn’t really looked at the impact the parking plan will have on customers. Customers are coming back.
"We are Dunedin, we want people to come and visit. Pay parking is not going to help … We shouldn’t be shooting ourselves in the foot," he added.
Commissioners unanimously decided to table a vote on the downtown parking plan indefinitely.
After the meeting Bujalski posted a photo on her Facebook page proclaiming; "No Paid Parking," with the caption. "Ding dong, the witch is dead! The three-year fight is finally over!"