AIKEN --- Shoppers in downtown Aiken won't have to worry about parking tickets this Christmas season.
But that will all change early next year when the city of Aiken begins enforcing a new two-hour parking limit in front of businesses in the downtown area.
At its most recent meeting, the city council approved the time restraint after hearing a presentation from the Aiken Downtown Development Association.
"It's essentially in effect right now, but we will not be doing any enforcement until we get the education out," City Manager Roger LeDuc said. "And because of the Christmas holidays, we're not going to be doing anything until the first of the year."
The downtown development association has recommended that fines be $10 for a first violation and the fine could be escalated for those with multiple violations or those who don't pay within 72 hours of receiving a ticket. The city council has not yet decided whether to accept that recommendation.
Parking in downtown Aiken has been an issue for some time.
A parking study conducted in August 2006 found that 111 on-street parking spaces within the two-blocks along Laurens Street and Richland Avenue were occupied by one vehicle for six hours or longer.
Mr. LeDuc said the problem doesn't appear to be with shoppers, but with people who work in downtown businesses.
He said the latest survey showed there is a small group that parks in front of the stores all day long.
Removing those who park long-term would increase the availability of on-street spaces by almost 30 percent, the parking study stated.
The Downtown Development Association Committee has been looking at areas and trying to identify privately owned parking lots that might be used for employees.
"After the first of the year, we'll have maps that we'll be giving everybody," Mr. LeDuc said. "We'll be giving friendly warnings to people, and the actual enforcement won't be until February or March."
Capt. Wendell Hall with Aiken Public Safety said the only parking enforcement the department does has to do with handicap parking and yellow curb violations in addition to parking in front of fire hydrants.
"Up until now, there was no parking enforcement downtown," he said.
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