TAMPA — Paula McKethan stood on the sidewalk at the entrance of the 14-story building and gestured with both arms at the 12 parking spaces that lined the brick-paved street in front of her.
"What is so important about right here?" she asked. "People have gotten so many tickets that they're afraid to park here. It's unfair."
Nearby, more than a dozen residents of the Vista 400 senior living facility nodded their heads at McKethan's vociferous protest.
"We're not looking at young people who can walk from meter to meter," McKethan said. "These are elderly, disabled people."
The 15 or so residents of the towering apartment building at 400 N Harrison St. gathered Tuesday morning for a meeting to discuss the problem with city officials. Their complaints were many and varied, but all centered on what they claimed were unfair restrictions on street parking for the building's residents, many of whom are physically disabled.
When the group showed up at 9:30 a.m. to demand change, they were met by two representatives from the city's parking division who were there to listen to their concerns and assuage their complaints.
Parking superintendent Tom Szubka stood wearing a suit and tie, patiently listening as residents told of nurses and home health care workers being ticketed, and of being forced to pay parking fines within 14 days, a high hurdle for those on fixed incomes. At least one nearby car sat parked with a ticket fluttering in the morning breeze, a handicapped placard hanging from its rearview mirror.
Why, they asked, should such stringent parking restrictions be applied to those with limited mobility and means to pay?
"It sounds like some of the issues we have here can be fixed pretty easily," Szubka told the crowd. "The parking division will look at it."
Some, like Shirley Simmons, 61, carried citations for parking in what was only recently marked as a 15-minute loading zone.
Several others complained of being told that they could only park in individual parking spaces for four hours at a time, that they had to relocate to another space at the end of each interval and pay for another four hours if they wanted to avoid a citation.
"I told them it feels like they're stalking us," Simmons said. "They're stalking the elderly."
Renee Tomas, a street operations supervisor for the parking division, spoke calmly with the group, clarifying parking policies. The claim that drivers had to change spaces every four hours was incorrect, she said. Residents with handicapped placards can park at the spaces for a maximum of 12 hours.
"All we ask is that you go up to the pay station, activate your four hours and go about your business," she told the group. She also made note of the Park Mobile app, which allows drivers to pay the meter from their phones.
By 10:30, the residents seemed at ease. Hands were shook. Thank-yous were exchanged. And concerns seemed allayed, for now.
Dan Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386.