North Adams businesses again rail against meter plan


NORTH ADAMS — Given another opportunity to make their case against parking meters in the Center Street parking lot, business owners didn't hold back.

"I believe they're going to hurt Main Street businesses because of the inconvenience of coin-operated meters and the need of people who are working there more than a short period of time to feed them," said Jeffrey Thomas, executive director of Lever at 85 Main St.

In an uncommon move, the City Council's Public Safety Committee held another hearing Tuesday on the proposal — less than a week after the council voted 7-2 to approve the plan. In order for the ordinance change to be finalized, it must be approved by the council a second time next week.

Broken kiosks and limited enforcement have essentially resulted in free parking in about half of the spaces in the city-owned lot; the balance of the lot is marked for long-term parking permit holders.

Officials have argued the lack of enforcement is disincentivizing the purchase of long-term passes by people who work downtown — which totals more than $40,000 in revenue annually. As a solution, the Mayor Richard Alcombright and the Traffic Commission have proposed installing meters to charge 25 cents per hour in the short-term spaces.

Tuesday's meeting, held at the behest of downtown businesspeople who appeared in unanimous opposition to installing meters, was the second committee meeting on the issue. On Tuesday, it will be the proposal's fourth appearance before the full City Council.

Opponents argued the city would be beefing up enforcement on a problem that doesn't really exist. They asked for a data-driven approach to the issue before any decisions are made.

"[If] it was not always possible to get a parking spot there, I'd feel completely different about this... but that is not the situation at this point in time," Thomas said. "It's always possible."

Robert J Fraser, CEO of MountainOne Bank, one of the city's largest buyers of long-term parking permits, asked the council to hold off on implementing the meters and argued that the meters would put MountainOne at a competitive disadvantage.

"I would love to have an opportunity to really explore this... in greater detail to find a viable solution that really works for most people," Fraser said. "I think it's a much more complex issue and let's look at it from different angles."

Craig Barnum, of the CT Management Group and Scarafoni Associates, also opposed the plan and, echoing Fraser's sentiments, requested more data be compiled before a decision be made about the lot's future.

"Parking is truly oxygen to these buildings," Barnum said. "And if it doesn't have the right amount of oxygen there can be real consequences."

Councilor Joshua Moran, who voted in favor of the proposal last week, noted some of the largest permit holders were present — and they, too, opposed the metering plan.

"You guys are using the lot all the time, and it does appear maybe this is very quick to throw meters in because the stakeholders, you guys, are the ones who will actually benefit or not benefit from this," Moran said.

Aleta Moncecchi, the deputy director of the Berkshire County Action Council's North County office at 85 Main St., argued that the 25 cents to park in Center Street might be a "big deal" for someone utilizing the nonprofit's services.

"We deal with low-income people — that is going to be a hardship for people," Moncecchi said.

In response, Councilor Kate Merrigan said she hadn't thought of a quarter as a hardship and "that shifts my thinking a little bit."

Thomas also argued that it's a "false assumption" that a working kiosk is an impossible solution.

"I would ask you to take time — I don't understand the urgency here — to evaluate a variety of solutions, including newer technology, that would enable you to restore this system of free two-hour parking," Thomas said.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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