Parking permit program 'doable,' but complicated

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Cumberland Times-News, March 28, 2012

Kristin Harty Barkley

 

CUMBERLAND — Creating a residential parking permit program for certain neighborhoods in the city would be a whole lot more complicated — and potentially expensive — than officials initially thought, City Administrator Jeff Rhodes told Cumberland Council on Tuesday night.

“I think it’s doable,” said Rhodes, who worked with Police Chief Charles Hinnant to research how other Maryland communities have dealt with the issue.

“But I was left with more questions than I had answers, which was certainly not my intent when we started.”

City leaders were asked to explore a permit program about 18 months ago by a resident of Polk Street, where on-street parking is in short supply, partly because of high-volume parking needs at the International Beauty School.

Because the school is in the business district zone it isn’t required to provide students with off-street parking.

Rhodes had hoped the city could operate a permit program with minimal costs and without charging residents a fee for permits. But that hasn’t worked in other communities, he said Tuesday night.

“All of the programs are fee-based and all said there are tangible costs to trying to do this,” Rhodes said. Officials from five communities — Frederick, Elkton, Rockville, Annapolis and College Park — gave mixed reviews about the success of their programs, he said.

Among questions officials here would have to consider before implementing a program in the Polk Street neighborhood:

• How would they define the geographic area where parking rules would apply?

• Who would be eligible to petition to start a program — only property owners or other residents as well?

• How many permits would the city issue per housing unit?

• Would the permits expire after six months or a year or be permanent?

• What about guests visiting the neighborhood?

• Would the permits be hanging or fixed?

“Seems like a silly question to ask, but there could be a lot of fraud or gamesmanship if we give out permits that you hang from your window,” Rhodes said. “A big concern of mine is how do we handle the growth?  I believe we will see more requests for such a program in other neighborhoods, and that will begin to stretch our ability to do it without costs.”

Councilman David Kauffman said he doesn’t think the city can afford to absorb any new costs.

“I want to resolve this particular issue, but as we are constantly reminded in terms of our budget picture, the fact of the matter is we can’t go starting new programs for which we don’t have identified revenue streams,” Kauffman said.

Polk Street resident Joe Delosier, who first made council aware of parking problems in 2010, said he thinks it boils down to zoning. The city shouldn’t allow a school with no designated parking spaces to operate in the central business district, he said.

“The problem is they have too many students and they take too many parking spaces,” Delosier said.

But Kauffman said the city shouldn’t discourage growth in the central business district.

“I strongly discourage us from pursuing a zoning conversation,” Kauffman said. “We need to fix what’s going on down there, and I think it involves the beauty school. I just need us to understand collectively that it is the fundamental problem that we have in the central business district. How do we occupy these spaces and coordinate our traffic in conjunction with it?”

Councilman Butch Hendershot said he was disappointed that no one from the International Beauty School attended Tuesday’s meeting. City officials plan to approach leadership at the school to talk about possible solutions to the parking problems.

“The missing piece is the beauty school,” Mayor Brian Grim said. “There’s been an almost total lack of cooperation on their part and recognition of the district that they’re in and the effect they have.”

The school’s director, JoAnn Parker, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .