North Adams Center Street parking meter plan gets more time

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NORTH ADAMS — A plan to install meters at the Center Street parking lot is on hold so the City Council can further vet the proposal and explore enforcement options.

Most members seemed supportive of the plan, but the council opted to delay a vote after an extensive discussion at Tuesday's meeting.

"There are a lot of questions that have been raised tonight and we don't necessarily have the players in the room to discuss them knowledgably," said council President Benjamin Lamb.

Mayor Richard Alcombright and Police Director Michael Cozzaglio introduced the proposal, with support from the city's traffic commission, to charge 25 cents per hour via new parking meters at the city-owned lot. It was unanimously recommended to the full council following a public safety committee meeting on Monday

Alcombright, who did not attend Tuesday's meeting, has said a plan to install more than 60 meters in the Center Street lot is primarily to enable better enforcement of its rules. About half of the lot is set aside for long-term parking pass holders — who pay $30 per month or more for the right to park in reserved spaces — and the other half is free for the first two hours. With new meters, parking would be $0.25 per hour, with a four-hour limit, and no overnight parking in those spots.

Two kiosks installed to charge for parking beyond two hours have long been broken, and the estimate to replace just one exceeds $15,000, according to Cozzaglio. With the use of meters, officials argue police will be able to easily drive through the lot and ticket cars when their time has expired.

The city has received complaints from parking pass holders that, due to a lack of enforcement, those without passes are able to park indefinitely, officials said.

City councilors discussed the meters at length on back-to-back nights, first at a public safety committee meeting Monday and then at a Tuesday full council meeting.

To enforce it properly, "you'd really have to have someone who is out there all the time," said longtime parking enforcement officer MaryAnn King on Monday. There are more than 100 parking passes purchased every year from the city, bringing in revenue of more than $40,000.

Councilor Robert Moulton Jr. suggested a different approach altogether: charge for use of city parking lots on days that the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts hosts large events. Moulton estimated that, assuming the parking lots charge $10 for parking and are full for four major events a year, the city's revenue could exceed $60,000 annually.

The parking meters would undoubtedly bring in revenue to the city's parking meter reserve account, which is generally used to purchase police cruisers — just one of which costs about $41,000, according to Cozzaglio.

Councilor Keith Bona opposed the use of meters, but suggested at least integrating technology into the city's plans, and showed an example of a meter that either takes coins or works with a smartphone app. Similarly, Councilor Joshua Moran, who supported meters as a means of enforcement, also expressed concern that installing meters today might be like buying a VCR — obsolete.

Councilor Lisa Blackmer said she's heard more opposition to this proposal than recent increases to water and sewer rates. She opposed the installation of meters, citing the strain they would put on part-time employees at downtown businesses, which could be forced to buy long-term passes.

She advocated on for a beat cop who works the downtown area and would also enforce parking. The city should also find more quotes on kiosk replacements, she said.

Councilor Nancy Bullett supported the proposal, and Councilor Eric Buddington said it is a "straightforward and easy solution" to the enforcement issue.

"To me it only makes sense to have metered parking," Bullett said.

Several councilors appear inclined to take a fresh look at the city's larger parking infrastructure, but city officials requested they limit the scope of their current decision to the Center Street lot proposal. The city hopes to install the meters this summer while other construction, including repaving, is done at the Center Street lot.

"We have one problem for one parking lot and that's what we need to address," Alcombright said Monday.

Bona recommended Tuesday that the council take the opportunity to examine the city's entire parking before passing the city's proposal, and Blackmer admonished the city for allowing the kiosk to remain out of order for more than three years before trying to pass a meter proposal in a matter of weeks.

"I'd rather us look at the bigger picture now before we put in meters," Bona said.

Councilor Kate Merrigan noted that while the meters may only be a short-term solution, their cost is relatively inexpensive at about $5,000. She also suggested a city planner or consultant examine the issue in the future.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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