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Merchants Ask for Parking Project to be Postponed

Steve Lafferty forwards request to the County Executive to postpone meters, sensors after a spirited meeting.

White lines to mark new parking spaces and spots where sensors will be buried are scheduled to be painted today.

New meters are scheduled to follow, but will not be turned on until Jan. 1.

Thursday morning, however, Director of Special Projects for the Department of Planning and Zoning Steve Lafferty said that he had sent a request to the administration from some merchants to postpone both projects until April.

That request was made at a meeting Wednesday evening at the George Howard building concerning the county’s new parking program that will see multi-space parking meters installed on Main Street and Maryland Avenue, as well as replace meters in the county’s parking lots.

The plan includes sensors to be buried below parking spaces in order to implement the phone application.

Have something to say about parking? Blog on Patch.

During the meeting, there were pleas for the community to come together, rally cries against the county, as well as those who called for everyone to give the county “the chance to see it through.”

The meeting was held at the request of Sara Arditti, owner of the Still Life Gallery on Main Street and the driving force behind opposition to the county’s new plans for the Historic District.

She has receieved more than 60 signatures from Historic District stakeholders on a petition asking the county to cancel the program entirely. 

“We’re asking Howard County for some relief, some breathing room, time and space,” Arditti said at the opening of the meeting. “We’re trying to do business in a terrible economy after a series of disasters from which this county is still trying to recover.”

With the exception of Arditti, who has owned Still Life for less than five months, merchants who had been in the Historic District for longer seemed to dominate the dissenting crowd.

“I applaud her,” Len Berkowitz, co-owner of Great Panes, said about Arditti’s penchant for activism. If it were a decade or so ago, he said, "That would've been me."

Berkowitz did address the group, recounting numerous discussion, plans and programs that had, at one time or another, been presented to fix the presumed parking problems in the Historic District.

The former Ellicott City Business Association president has worked to find a solution to a perceived parking problem in the Historic District since the 1970s.

The difference then, he said, was that “everybody who was a shareholder had an opportunity to speak … you don’t wait until it happens and then say to [the county] this isn’t the way to do it. But in this case, they came to us in August and said, ‘Here’s what we’re doing.’”

County Executive Ken Ulman announced the new parking plan at a meeting Aug. 21, the night after the CSX train derailment. Still, the meeting was packed with merchants and residents, many of whom said they thought there would be an opportunity at that meeting to testify publicly. There was not.

“I feel slighted in this case and a little disappointed especially because – I have to be honest with you – I worked on Ken Ulman’s campaign.”  Berkowitz said that in 2007 he and several Historic District representatives spoke to Ulman about several issues, including parking.

“I happen to have a copy of that original document,” he said, shuffling through a folder.  One of the suggestions was allowing funds from “meters, parking permits and parking tickets” to be collected in a parking revenue fund for the Historic District.

The current plan is projected to cost a maximum of $1 million over four years. Several people spoke at the meeting of other ways that money could be put to use.

Frank Durantaye, a Main Street business and Frederick Road property owner, said he wasn’t going to get involved in the meter issue until he heard the $1 million figure. “We’ve been trying to fix stormwater management. We are constantly being told that there’s no money for that. All of your businesses might be under water,” he said, adding, “I don’t know if these parking meters are water proof.”

The projected cost, however, is money that the county believes will be raised by the new meter fees - $1 per hour on Main Street and Maryland Avenue, 25 and 50 cents in county lots. Essentially, the program is expected to pay for itself, so that projected $1 million doesn’t yet exist. 

Several merchants spoke up in favor of the project, which with the use of underground sensors should give the county data showing where there may be specific problems. “Beyond anecdotes,” Lafferty said, the county can learn “where there are spaces, where there’s turnover and where there are problems,” and that the program can be adjusted as more data comes in. 

Rumor Mill owner Matt Milani said that his business would adapt to the new program and that he saw certain aspects – such as the ability to tell customers where available parking is – as a service. 

“If it’s a done deal,” he said near the end of the meeting, “I can’t go back and fight it. I can just adapt to it, use it and track it.”

Throughout the decades of parking studies, he said, “this is the first kind of real attempt that you’ve tried to see through. I say go for it, but I’m also going to be the first one to hold you accountable if it doesn’t work. I want to give you guys the chance to see it through. I say go for it.”

Although Arditti has said that her intent was to stop the program altogether, several speakers expressed their frustration not with the program in particular, but that the county – which had worked with the ECBA – did not cast a wider net when seeking input.

After floods, power outages and the train derailment, “We need time for our community to recover, to come together in a spirit of cooperation, of healing if you will, so we can present the county with what we’re for rather than what we’re against,” Ellicott Interiors owner Lissa Bounds said.

She asked Lafferty if he would pass a request to the administration to postpone the entire project until April 1. “To give us an opportunity to come together, have a unified voice?" 

“I’ll present that to the county executive,” Laffery responded to applause.

Thursday morning Lafferty said in an email that he had passed that request to the administration. 

Lafferty will be holding a meeting on Oct. 29 to speak with residents about the ways in which residential parking can be handled in the new program.

Read more about the parking proposal:

- Do You Want to See a Metered Main Street?

- Merchant Petitions Against Main Street Meters

- Bigger Problems Than Meters on Main Street

- Facts About the Parking in Ellicott City

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This article has been edited to indicate that merchants, not residents, spoke in favor of the plan.

Brandie Jefferson October 18, 2012 at 05:43 PM
I'm going to say "no," but take another look at my notes. From memory, the one substantial discussion about residents at this meeting dealt with safety (walking longer distances to park in poorly lit lots). I believe the "resident-centric" discussion will happen on the 29th at the meeting at St. Paul's Church.
Dan Jenkins October 18, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Thank you for clarifying. It is a shame that discussion is happening so late, after so much has already been done. It appears that residents were an afterthought in this scheme.
FRANCIS October 18, 2012 at 07:26 PM
I would like to know if there is a list somewhere of the merchants that have petitioned against these meters, other than the ones that have been vocal in the media. I will be sure not to frequent their businesses, as their view is terribly shortsighted and certainly not customer oriented.
Jack Mav October 20, 2012 at 02:47 AM
Francis, you might want to avoid Main Street altogether then, since a large portion of the merchants signed the petition. Sarah Ardetti has that petition in her shop, Still Life Gallery.
Jack Mav October 20, 2012 at 02:55 AM
She has kept good records along the way, done a lot of research, and has spoken with those merchants willing to talk. Both for and against.

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