DUNEDIN — Nothing has been more divisive in this city than the issue of paid parking.
It comes as no surprise. Residents are passionate about keeping it delightful and quaint, two words often used to describe the waterfront city. They rallied their city commission to buy up property next to a park and have come out against development that is not compatible with its surroundings .
But as the city's downtown popularity grows, and developers sweep up desired lots, it's struggling to find ways to meet residents' needs.
Last year, when Dunedin officials agreed to implement paid parking for one year while trying to figure out how to solve the problem downtown, it was a heated debate. The commission voted 4-1 to approve the plan, with Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski in the minority.
Now, nine months in, a third-quarter review of the financial revenue has shown that the program is turning a profit, money the city plans to use to pay for a parking garage. But some downtown workers say it's hurting them.
On Oct. 5, when the program ends, the city will have about a month to re-evaluate. On Nov. 2, the City Commission will decide whether to pursue it or seek another option.
Currently, the city has paid about $100,000 for the 39 pay stations that were leased to own from Parkeon, said purchasing agent Chuck Ankney. If the city decides not to continue the program, it would have to give notice to both Parkeon and parking management company, SP Plus, which provides the parking enforcement officers. If the commission chooses to shut down the program immediately in November, a buyout fee could be associated with ending both contracts, Ankney said.
The city has been able to make about $345,000 after expenses, money that will go toward funding a future parking garage. Finance Director Joe Ciurro said the third quarter results were a little better than he had anticipated, and the numbers are close to what was projected.
But in the city, feelings are mixed. There are downtown workers like Cristy Burrola, 39, manager of Middle Earth Olive Oil, who said paid parking is the ire of local residents, who are coming by less frequently.
On a Friday, her friend Amanda Britt, 25, a waitress at Tony's Pizza, stopped by the shop and told Burrola about how a party of six refused to dine in that day because they didn't want to pay for parking. It would've been her biggest party of the day.
"It's almost like we're used to it," said Britt. She's now accustomed to helping customers figure out the pay machines or having them turn around and leave to avoid it.
They both agreed that the biggest blow has come from losing local customers.
"The locals are who you have to please," Britt said.
"They're your bread and butter," Burrola added.
Dianne Schuldt, 67, says she and a group of about 20 Dunedin residents have started going out to Safety Harbor and Palm Harbor not because of the $1.50 an hour price, but because it goes against what makes the city unique.
"It's 'undelightful,' like many people say," said Schuldt, 67. "It's not Dunedin, it's not right to do here."
Gregory Brady, owner of Salon GW, believes paid parking was inevitable for the thriving downtown. Residents boycotting seems counter intuitive, he said, because by choosing to go out to other towns, they are no longer supporting Dunedin. Brady, who chaired the resident-led parking committee, said it has been a frustrating process to hear complaints but no other solutions being offered.
"If it goes away, I'd like to see an alternative to secure parking for the future," he said.
When the third-quarter findings were presented to the City Commission, commissioners faced business owners who say business has been up, and downtown workers like Tim Cunnings, a server at Cafe Alfresco, who said he has lost $2,600 in tips since the start of the year.
"I don't think it's fair. I think it needs to be revisited," he said.
Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association president Kimberly Platt, and owner of HONU, said she plans on surveying the 130 merchants in the organization on their thoughts on paid parking. But her own business has gone up, she said.
"I have the numbers to prove my business is up," she told the commission. "I'm thriving."
Along with more conversations, commissioners have said they want a push for a more focused conversation on whether the losses of implementing paid parking outweigh the gains.
Bujalski said she wants to make sure all voices on the issue are heard.
"I just think we should be hearing from the community," she said.