NORTH ADAMS >> The city council signed off on a plan Tuesday to charge $0.25 per hour for parking at the Center Street municipal lot.
Passed by a 7 to 2 margin, the revisions to the city's parking ordinances will result in the installation of more than 60 parking meters in spots that were previously free for the first two hours of parking.
A kiosk that was built to charge for parking past the free two-hour window has long been out of commission, effectively resulting in free parking. The other half of the lot is reserved for those who pay for long-term parking permits. Mayor Richard Alcombright has maintained that the purpose of the proposal is not to generate revenue, but to enforce time limits on those who do not pay for long-term parking.
The proposal was recommended by the traffic commission and the city council's public safety committee. It was before the council on July 26 but its members decided to postpone the vote to Tuesday.
Alcombright requested the council take action on the order in front of it before it begins a more detailed discussion on citywide parking issues.
"We're looking administratively for a fix to an enforcement problem in the Center Street Parking Lot. It's as simple as that," Alcombright, who later added "it kind of ties our hands administratively — either tell us we can or tell us we can't."
Councilor Kate Merrigan said the research she's done on parking management indicates that a $0.25 per hour charge would not deter people from using the parking spaces.
"I've talked more with people who park downtown, and I've not heard the concern that they would change their parking behavior over $0.25," said Merrigan, who voted in favor of the proposal.
Councilor Nancy Bullet said the information she found showed "at 25 cent for an hour is not a big deterrent, it's when you get up into the bigger or tiered feeing that is now available."
Councilor Keith Bona, who voted against the proposal, asked that the lot regulations be enforced by sending an officer through with a camera. Two hours later, the officer could look back on a photo to see which cars are still parked in the lot.
"That's keeping the people who have permits happy — ticketing the ones who don't [have permits] who are there over two hours," Bona said. "I say you try that for a month."
Bona and Lisa Blackmer expressed dismay that parking enforcement has been an issue in Center Street for several years, but the council was being asked to pass the proposal in a matter of weeks.
"I just feel we don't need to move on it as quick as we did ... maybe it's been on the table for three years but we've only had it [for a month]," Bona said.
Blackmer said she's received comments from businesses and business organizations "who have all said we really need to look at this in general before making this decision."
Alcombright expressed a willingness to look at parking issues more globally when the city brings on a city planner.
Councilor Robert Moulton Jr., supported the measure but said he would like to see something done with the city's lots and parking in the downtown generally "sooner than later."
"I would probably go for it just in fairness. You've got people paying fees over there, pretty good fees, and you've got other ones there that are kind of getting a free ride," Moulton said.
Alcombright noted the cost of installing the meters — about $5,000 — is a relatively small investment. The meters are expected to be installed before winter.
Blackmer and Bona were the only two councilors to vote against the proposal.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376