“There is a continual lack of acknowledgment of the existence of residents, many of whom have been living on the Downtown Mall for years prior to the current parking problem, for whom parking is not provided with their residences,” said Carolyn Meier, one of 20 residents of York Place on the mall.
Mark Brown, the sole shareholder of the Charlottesville Parking Center, has been holding meetings with various business owners to explain his Access Downtown proposal. The centerpiece is the creation of two zones of on-street parking that would be managed by a public-private partnership.
On-street parking downtown is generally free for up to two hours, but Brown and others have argued those spaces are often taken up by downtown employees.
Architect Greg Powe, one of the developers of the planned nine-story Market Plaza on Water Street, attended a briefing on Access Downtown last week. He said he found it to be a “thoughtful analysis” on one of the infrastructure problems facing the city.
“Brown made a compelling case for why the two-hour on-street parking that is theoretically available for customers to come in and out of downtown doesn’t work in practice,” Powe said. “It is his feeling that if we introduce paid parking on the streets that it would discourage the shufflers.”
Brown’s proposal has not been shown to a wide audience yet, but the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville made a request for the city to charge for on-street parking in early December.
Earlier this month, the City Council agreed to pay a consultant to refresh a 2008 study that recommended the city create a parking management system in order to free up space for shoppers and other short-term visitors.
Though the council balked at installing meters in 2008, the Comprehensive Plan it adopted in 2013 anticipated the topic would come back up.
Goal 5 of the transportation chapter calls for “public parking to maintain the vitality of the city while using pricing strategies (including metering) and coordinated locations of parking to encourage use of transit, walking and bicycling.” The chapter also calls for park-and-ride lots, which would be subsidized under Brown’s plan at a monthly fee to be determined.
“I know my employees were shufflers because they couldn’t afford to pay for downtown parking,” said George Benford, the former owner of a wine bar on the mall. He continues to be on the board of the business association, which has advocated for metered parking.
Jaclynn Dunkle, who owns two restaurants downtown, said she is skeptical the system will be in the public’s interest.
“Paid parking has its place here, but employees who work late do not have access to any parking within a parking garage because the garages close early,” Dunkle said. She added that many business owners do not belong to the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville and that more members of the community need to be heard.
“Any plan for parking needs community input, business input and consideration of public transportation, pedestrian traffic and bicycle paths,” Dunkle said.
Some expressed concerns that the system might be too complex to navigate, prompting people to seek out destinations elsewhere in the community.
“The cost and hassle of parking is one thing that prevents me from going to the [Downtown] Mall,” said Ashleigh Crocker, who said she lives too far away to walk or use transit.
Crocker said she hasn’t yet seen the proposal, but has learned more details through news accounts.
“I realize the issue is more nuanced and that this is something that from an environmental and public transit standpoint could be a good idea,” Crocker said. “But that said, it will probably still keep me from thinking twice about going to the mall.”
Benford said he hopes the public can keep an open mind about the proposal.
“It could help us with employment downtown,” Benford said. “People don’t take jobs downtown because there’s a parking fee they might have to pay.”
Meier said she hasn’t yet seen the proposal, but she’s concerned about what will happen to people who live downtown. With the looming closure of the city’s metered lot on Water Street to make way for Market Plaza, she recently began paying for a monthly space in the Charlottesville Parking Center’s Water Street surface lot to be able to have access to a car 24 hours a day.
A monthly parker who uses either of the center’s two structures must pay $50 to have the garages reopened after they close at night.
“In a city where affordable housing is supposed to be a goal, the additional parking fee is not insubstantial,” Meier said. “Relenting and finding monthly parking as a resident also does not provide any options for guests who are overnight visitors to residents living on the mall.”
Powe said he is providing 270 spaces in the Market Plaza building he is developing with fellow architect Keith Woodard, and that the public spaces will come back once the project is completed.
“We’re providing one space for every 600 square feet of office and one space for every residence in addition to the 102 public parking spaces that we are displacing,” Powe said. “The hope is that more and more of the people working in the office space will be living downtown and the demands on parking will decrease over time.”
Timothy Hulbert, president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he would like to see more details.
“We look forward to the formal proposal that goes to City Council and the Downtown Business Association of Charlottesville and will proceed from there,” Hulbert said.