By Margie Plunkett
Motorists will have hundreds of new parking options each evening and on weekends in Delray Beach.
Mayor Woodie McDuffie got the word that the city can open the County Courthouse parking garage for use after hours seven days a week as city lawmakers and staff continue puzzling through creation of a viable parking plan and how to pay for it.
The additional garage spaces, part of a 500-space parking complex near the library, came in answer to questions the mayor had on his to-do list following City Commission’s workshop meeting June 12. At that meeting staff presented downtown parking options that included metering, an assessment and the status quo in an attempt to resolve long-standing parking issues.
“It’s insane to me to think that we have that many spaces sitting there once they close the courthouse,” McDuffie said at the workshop meeting.
The city had use of the garage in the early 2000s and opening it now would come with the same stipulation: The city has to staff it.
Commissioners and staff have discussed using its parking garages for an employee parking program designed to open more spaces for patrons by shifting the cars of the 3,000 people who work downtown from prime spaces to secondary areas.
The second question on the mayor’s list, still to be answered: How many of those employees are downtown at specific times of the day and night?
At the June workshop, commissioners didn’t appear ready to accept a metered parking option as proposed for the downtown area between the Intracoastal Waterway and Swinton Avenue, backing away from elements such as charging patrons to park during the day and varied rates designed to manage parking.
The meeting ended with staff planning to check further into assessment options — including voluntary assessment — and reworking its numbers to reflect commission requests such as for free daytime parking if meters are used.
The proposed metering option “is the craziest system I’ve ever seen,” commented Commissioner Adam Frankel. “This is the most confusing system in the world.”
Frankel, who does not want meters and favors staying with the city’s current parking system, pointed to Boca Raton’s Mizner Park as an example of what happens when meters are installed: “No one’s there.”
Commissioner Al Jacquet also doesn’t want meters, but wants to get employee parking off the street. “There’s a high chance of getting more hurt than help from the parking meter. We have enough parking spaces in the city. We’re just not using them.”
Proposed metered rates would range from $1.50 an hour on side streets to $2 on Atlantic Avenue, intending to steer motorists to park on less-traveled streets and the city’s lots and garages, where rates were $1 and 50 cents an hour respectively. The plan provided one free hour of parking downtown during the day.
“In addition to calling the plan’s varied rates confusing, commissioners also objected to paid parking downtown during the day and wanted to consider a voluntary assessment plan rather than metering.
“My suggestion would be have it free parking in the daytime to a certain time, then to start paying,”said Commissioner Angeleta Gray. “I’m willing to put meters on Atlantic Avenue, but have them on at night. We need to generate more revenue.” She said she preferred that the commission explore a voluntary assessment of at least the area downtown. The city’s attorneys are looking at the assessment option, City Manager David Harden said, with a question to the ethics commission of whether commissioners would be in violation of ethics policy by soliciting businesses for the voluntary assessment.
“I’m not sure I’d be prepared to assess small businesses these days,” said Commissioner Tom Carney. Carney said he wasn’t saying no to meters, but he was “convinced meters during the day are probably not good for our merchants.
“It has to be carefully implemented and consistently applied,” he said.
McDuffie said “I’d like to simplify” the metered system. “This is really confusing. At an individual meter, you can make it simpler.” Ú