PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A petition against putting parking meters in the new Columbus Avenue surface lot could trigger a full re-examination of the parking program.
Berkshire Nautilus owner Jim Ramondetta has submitted a petition to the City Council with some 800 signatures of people opposing putting parking meters in the new lot. Ramondetta claims the city had not kept him informed of the move and that meters would hinder his business. He's fighting for 90-minute parking, like he has now, instead.
Council Vice President John Krol filed a petition with the council to do just that in the new lot. The current Columbus Avenue garage is torn down and construction of a new surface lot is ongoing and when it is done, the administration expects to install meters.
"Part of it is a philosophical idea of what the parking meters are supposed to do anyway," Krol said at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
Krol had been one of the votes for the installation of the meters but said a conversation should be had as to whether or not the plan as it is is doing that. The benefits of the meters were that it would push employees off from taking up all of the spots on North Street, allowed closer parking for customers, and created a revenue stream to pay for parking-related expenses such as maintenance and upkeep of the municipal lots and garages.
Councilor at Large Peter White believes the meters are working. He said he is downtown almost every day and the First Street lot is filled with people paying for the meters so it isn't deterring business. He praised the benefits of somebody being able to park in the same place all day instead of having to move the vehicle every so often.
He said in Ramondetta's circumstance, there are other options. Berkshire Bank, for example, purchases passes for their employees in the McKay Street garage and has dedicated parking spaces. He suggest Berkshire Nautilus consider something similar for its customers.
White not only doesn't see a problem with the meters now, he is fearful that expanding the conversation to being about downtown parking overall will ended up bogging everything down.
He is the chairman of the Ordinance and Rules Committee that will have to handle it — a committee that is fresh off of items like trash collection and a plastic bag ban — and can see a mess coming should the council take a petition focused on one lot and expand it to an overall look.
"I don't want to create more problems by having this go forward," White said. "This petition is for one lot. It is not for citywide parking. At O&R we will focus on the one area."
Councilor at Large Earl Persip said only focusing on one lot would likely cause trouble. He doesn't want to see a decision be made to accommodate one business owner and have that open the door to others expecting the same thing.
"I feel for the business owner that doesn't want to jeopardize business. But what happens next? The next time one of the other fitness places around want free parking near their building?" Persip said, also agreeing that there are other options for the business owner to accommodate the members.
"Just doing one lot, I think we open up a can of worms we don't want to get into."
Councilor Melissa Mazzeo, who sits on O&R, doesn't want to simply look at only that garage. She wants a look at all of it.
"I just think petition has come at a good time to have a conversation. By bringing this out, you will start to hear from other businesses," Mazzeo said.
Adding to that timing is the longstanding belief that installing the parking meters would position the city to get state funds to build a new Columbus Avenue garage. Yet, even with the meters, the state still refused to fund the rebuilding of a garage and instead the city is paying for a surface lot on its own.
The state granted money to the city to rebuild the McKay Street garage and included a provision that a parking plan be created to fund upkeep of the garage. In 2013, under Mayor Daniel Bianchi, consultants crafted the parking meter plan — which the city only partially implemented.
Mayor Linda Tyer implemented the plan starting in January 2017, just about one year into her term in office and picking up where it had left off. The meters have since created a revenue source with the income from them exceeding the cost of maintenance, management, and the bond to pay for them. But, that income is far less than officials had estimated early on.
While White boasted of the First Street lot, which was redone just a few years earlier and meters installed, Councilor Kevin Morandi sees the opposite in the McKay Street surface lot. That lot used to be a mix of permit parking and three-hour parking and is now all meters. It used to be full but has been mostly empty since becoming metered.
"If this isn't worth our while, then maybe we shouldn't be in the parking meter business," Morandi said.
Before the council got too into the weeds on the conversation, Councilor Anthony Simonelli moved the question, which ended the discussion and moved it to a vote. The vote passed to send the petition on the Columbus Avenue lot to Ordinance and Rules but the feeling of many councilors is this is a start of a bigger conversation. Persip and White were joined by Helen Moon and Peter Marchetti in opposing the petition, with some arguing for a new petition to be filed to look at all and not just one lot.
The council also debated for more than an hour over temporary easements for a new bridge on New Street. The state is heading the $2.7 million to replace what is now a temporary bridge there but Blythewood Realty on Keeler Street voiced concern about safety during and after construction.
After a lengthy discussion on the project, including questioning of Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials, the council approved the easements to allow the project to go forward by a 10-1 margin.
The council also sent the latest trash ordinance to the Resource Recovery Commission — essentially re-starting what has been a three-year process. The Resource Recovery Commission had been the one to consider numerous options of how to handle trash collection and then developed and recommend a toter plan to the mayor, which the council subsequently shot down.
Now the council is looking at new trash ordinances and is asking the Resource Recovery Commission to reconvene and tackle the issue.
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