Finding a coveted parking spot on Main and Court streets downtown depends on the time of day and season. Midday on a Monday or Tuesday in December is easy. Saturday after 5 p.m. can be tougher as restaurants and bars fill up. Summer can be even more of challenge.
Sure, there are public lots and spaces within easy walking distance – including the partially-covered deck parking on South Russell Street, as well as metered and non-metered spaces on various streets. Still, the rap on downtown, true or not, has long been that there is “nowhere” to conveniently park.
“The parking situation in downtown Plymouth is a huge deterrent for anybody wanting to come down here,” said Heather Govoni, who works at Style Unlimited. “More and more, I hear, ‘I’d like to come down but I don’t know if I can get parking.’”
Park Plymouth, a nonprofit that has a memorandum of understanding with the town to oversee parking in the business district, is considering a change that it hopes will open up more downtown parking: charge people to pay to park in formerly free two-hour spaces. Given the already high emotions and sharp opinions surrounding parking, however, Park Plymouth and town officials are going out of their way to say that the idea is just being floated.
“At this point it’s just a discussion,” said Desmond Egan, parking and property operations director for Park Plymouth. “It’s very preliminary. It’s more like a concept.”
Town Manager Derek Brindisi was just as cautious. “A lot more research and vetting has to take place,” he said.
The idea, Egan said, is to promote parking spaces that are now designated for up to two-hour stays, making more parking available to more people on a regular basis. Court and Main are among the last areas of downtown that do not have paid parking, he said.
Park Plymouth recently installed signs telling people who park on Main and Court streets that they must move their vehicle at least five parking spots once the two-hour limit has expired.
“Some residents and some employees in town take their car and will move it up a spot, taking away that availability to an incoming customer,” Egan said. “We’re seeing people game the system, if you will.”
In all, the parking fees would affect 130 parking spaces, Egan said. Park Plymouth would not install individual meters but instead would put in pay stations. People would also be able to pay with the Passport Parking app.
Brindisi said town officials have had “multiple” meetings with Park Plymouth staff and confirmed that Park Plymouth is interested in converting free parking on Main and Court Streets into paid parking.
Egan said Park Plymouth does not need the town’s permission to install paid parking.
Brindisi said Park Plymouth wants to work with the town to obtain the support of the Select Board and downtown businesses. He added that Park Plymouth would take the plan to the Select Board if it is interested in pursuing it.
From Dec. 1 to Mar. 31 downtown parking is free, but in many places it is still limited to either two hours or four hours between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
From Apr. 1 to Nov. 30, in much of downtown Plymouth, parking costs $2 an hour, except at the South Russell Street parking deck and the Burton and Cornish lots, where it is $1 an hour or $5 a day.
Brindisi said Park Plymouth has proposed that if it imposes paid parking on Main and Court Streets, a percentage of parking fees would be donated to infrastructure investments in the downtown area.
Egan confirmed that some proceeds could be targeted to benefit the downtown area. He cited paying for the holiday lighting at Brewster Gardens as an example.
He said he raised the possibility of additional paid parking at the last meeting of the Plymouth Downtown Waterfront District business group.
“It’s such a touchy subject in this town,” said Katy Thayer, co-owner of Uva Wine Bar on Main Street.
Thayer, who attended the Downtown Waterfront District meeting with Egan, said people find parking confusing. For example, they can park free on Main and Court streets, but only for two hours. At meters, the parking limit is four hours. And in public lots, they can park for 10 hours.
“Having paid parking everywhere will maybe make the message a little more concise,” Thayer said. “There is no free parking in downtown Plymouth will be the message. I think it’s fair enough that Park Plymouth actually lets parking go for free after 7 o’clock.”
The downside that Thayer sees is for restaurants that offer outdoor dining. To do so, they need to use some parking spaces. She fears that if the town gets funds from parking, it will not allocate those spaces for outdoor dining.
“It’s going to go over like a lead balloon when they do it,” Thayer said of that possibility. “Businesses are going to be angry because they don’t understand the benefits.”
Mike Petrucci, who works at Brennan’s Smoke Shop, opposes charging people to park on Main and Court streets.
“Nobody would come into town to park to purchase anything if they had to pay for it,” Petrucci said.
Some people just avoid parking on Main or Court Street altogether, even if it is free.
“I’ve seen so many people carelessly pull out and hit a parked car,” said Miles LeGrow, who works at Northern Lights Smoke Shop. He said he usually parks behind Town Hall.
Egan said if Park Plymouth were to move ahead with charging for parking on Main and Court streets, it would schedule public meetings with stakeholders.
Fred Thys can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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