Editorial: Bad Idea: Paid Parking On Cape Fear, Lake Park Blvd

By / Editorials / Wednesday, 03 February 2016 05:00

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

The original purpose of the Town's parking program was to encourage "parking turn-over" for on-street parking spaces to encourage people visiting the beach front to use pay-lots for long term parking. The on-street parking spaces are for shorter term visits to local businesses.
Many businesses in the downtown area along Lake Park Blvd from Harper Avenue south to Fayetteville Avenue have no parking on their own property.
Businesses on Cape Fear Blvd west of Lake Park Blvd, have always been time limited because of the nature of the area. Some residential mixed with a couple of hotels, an autoparts store, a restaurant, some residential homes and Sea Merchants Grocery Store. In front of Sea Merchant's it's always been 20 minute parking.
Meters on Cape Fear Blvd east of Lake Park Blvd where put in place to prevent people from parking all day to visit the beach front.
Again, to encourage them to park in a pay-lot and encourage short term use of those on-street parking spaces.
The goal of the parking program originally was not to operate like a for-profit business (not the function of government) but to encourage turnover in short term parking areas so as not to permit long term use to impact a business by denying customers easier access.
In the case of Sea Merchants, their customers on average spend about ten to twenty minutes shopping. The on-street spaces were limited to 20 minutes. The store has been there since the late 1950's.
Town Manager Michael Cramer will present a plan to install meters on Lake Park Blvd and Cape Fear Blvd at the Council's February 9th, meeting. (See report on page 1-A...)
Installing meters will have an impact on Sea Merchants and many other businesses on Lake Park Blvd because of the inconvenience. Does a customer go to Sea Merchants for a couple of items during a five minute visit or do they stop somewhere else because they don't want to feed a meter. Same applies for lunch at Pop's Diner, coffee at Magic Beans; meters tend to drive people to alternate choices.
In the case of Sea Merchants, they have limited parking on their property, and that will be used first by customers because they won't need to feed the meter.
The Town should go with the status quo rather than trying to squeeze a few hundred thousand a year more out of customers.
Residents with parking decals can park at metered spaces for free (for now...), but that leaves businesses dependent on how inconvenienced tourists and daily visitors will feel when deciding to park at a meter, or not.
The Town Council should schedule a public hearing rather than voting on the issue at their February 9th, meeting. A meeting is scheduled for February 4th to hear from business owners on how meters will impact their businesses, but evidently that meeting may be pointless based on the agenda released Tuesday afternoon listing the proposal for a vote with no public hearing and a recommendation from the Town Manager to go ahead and approve the plan.
This is clearly a way to drive up revenues by dipping into the pockets of customers that visit local small businesses. Alternatively, it will end up discouraging patrons to some degree.
And that's something the Council needs to consider. How best to study the impacts of the proposal from an economic perspective performed by experts rather than taking a proposal from a parking management company at face value. Of course, it's not their job to worry about those impacts; that's Council's job. Some of our elected leaders commented on the issue and their comments appear in this week's report on page 1-A. Next thing you know the Town will install meters at public parks and Town Hall.

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