Downtown parking still uncertain

Staff Writer
Friday, July 14, 2017

AMHERST — A substantial increase in the price for parking permits is being dropped from proposed changes to the town’s parking system coming before the Select Board Monday.

But the Downtown Parking Working Group is continuing to recommend raising the price of parking in the core of Amherst center from 50 cents to $1 per hour, allowing each space to be used for up to four hours, raising the price of tickets from $10 to $15 and extending enforcement from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays at all spaces.

The Select Board will hold a hearing at 7 p.m. at Town Room at Town Hall, though it’s uncertain if members will vote on the changes that night.

Select Board member Connie Kruger, who serves as chairwoman of the Downtown Parking Working Group, said Wednesday that the proposals are short-term, immediate measures to enhance parking availability through so-called demand-based pricing.

“What we’re trying to do is better manage what we have first,” Kruger said.

But with pushback from business owners about increasing the parking permit from $25 to $200 a year, the working group decided to put off that change and wait for more information, Kruger said. It was uncertain whether that change would have freed up more spaces.

Merchants, restaurant owners and other businesspeople have also argued that the proposals are not addressing the town’s need for additional parking through a new parking garage.

Kruger said these actions should not be seen as for or against a parking garage. Still, the working group has asked the Planning Board to look at a zoning amendment to allow private owners to operate a public parking garage, and a subcommittee will be created to focus on studying a second parking garage.

The other change proposed is to the current winter parking ban, which prohibits vehicles from most streets overnight between Dec. 1 and April 1. Instead, parking would be allowed at all times, except during a snow emergency, similar to what exists in Northampton.

When the changes will happen is uncertain. The town is getting new kiosks for lots that will accept coins, credit cards and payments through a mobile app.

While changes could be ready by September, Town Manager Paul Bockelman said there is no specific deadline.

Kruger said the important idea is to get the right pricing so that there are always enough spaces free for customers, but not so many that people are avoiding parking in downtown.

People will continue to have some 15-minute free spaces in downtown for doing quick business, such as getting a coffee or a newspaper, and anyone with handicapped placards can still park free at any space.