Lots of folks in downtown New Bern think they dodged a bullet when a downtown parking advisory committee leaned against recommending paid parking throughout downtown.
Except along Broad Street. Folks there are still at the shooty-shooty end of the barrel.
The committee will probably recommend that the city start enforcing the two-hour parking limit downtown. But anticipating an exodus of cars to nearby unregulated streets starting with Broad Street, the committee came up with the idea of installing paid parking kiosks charging a dollar an hour on Broad Street from the traffic circle to Middle Street.
Parking would be free on nights, weekends, holidays and election day, by the way.
Most committee members thought it would be a good idea to see how folks along that stretch felt about the idea. (Alderman Jeffrey Odham being the only exception.) So they sent out invitations.
Of those who responded, here’s what they said:
Gary Clemmons, partner at Chesnutt, Clemmons & Peacock
Clemmons said the law firm has been at 225 Broad St. since 1994 and downtown since 1985. He said his offices has three partners and 13 employees, but the 10-space parking lot at his building is generally reserved for clients. That means the 15 people in his offices park on-street, competing for the 50 parking spaces along the 200-300 block of Broad Street.
His employees face the prospect of paying $2,000 a year to park on the street near where they work.
That’s not even the tip of the iceberg. He said District Court’s criminal calendar draws 300-600 people downtown, and “those people have to have somewhere to park. They come and need to stay all day.”
He anticipates the crowds will take up spaces in nearby neighborhoods where it is free and there are no time limits.
“A lot of those people are elderly,” he said. “I don’t think you should impede people from accessing the court houses.”
“There are no other blocks affected,” he said. It’s unfair, he said, and gives other law firms elsewhere downtown at a competitive advantage where parking is free.
Meloni Wray, director of the Craven County Board of Elections
She said the county already has problems with voter turnout without having something like paid parking to further complicate the process. The Board of Elections has already voted in opposition to paid parking.
During elections where crowds actually show up to vote, such as presidential elections, there may be a three-hour wait, she said.
Jack Veit, Craven County manager
Craven County is one of downtown’s largest employers and landowners. He urged the city to look for other options and not seek a plan that amounts to “self-inflicted chaos.”
He urged the committee to hold off making any decisions about paid parking on Broad Street.
Terri Sharp, clerk of Craven County Superior Court
She said people travel to the court house for many reasons, including criminal cases. Her office handles adoptions, estates, trusts, foreclosures, name changes, boundary disputes, domestic cases, small claims, Department of Social Services cases, juvenile court … and on andon anonanonanon.
The courts also deal with jury selection, 150 jurors per term, two per month … all looking for parking places.
City Manager Mark Stephens
He said New Bern is a 300-year-old city that has been kicking the can down the road rather than solving parking problems, which have existed for 100 years.
He points out the conundrum in solving downtown parking issues. A shortage of spaces (caused in no small part by employees and managers taking up on-street parking) would be solved by enforced two-hour parking, but would not be practical on Broad Street, where visitors may need to park all day due to court calendars.
“Judge Alford is not going to recess every two hours so everyone can move their cars,” Stephens said.
Paid parking would provide an option for court visitors while at the same time discouraging people from parking there if their business is in the commercial areas of downtown.
Ward 6 Alderman Jeffrey Odham
He said he was opposed to having Broad Street interests come to the committee to give feedback. He said the advisory committee has spent several months working toward solutions, and advised against “outside influences” and “everyone’s individual opinion” interfere with the committee’s recommendation.
“We’re not going to make everybody happy,” he said. “We want to find a way to make everyone equally unhappy.”
“Other cities have the same situation as New Bern with paid parking,” he said. “We need to make it work here.”