Meter proponents meet with downtown merchants

For about an hour Wednesday morning, the word "meters" became toxic during a presentation to downtown merchants about bringing paid parking back to Broad Street.

The Downtown Development Authority of Augusta continued its push for parking changes -- which includes installing parking meters -- in a meeting with the Downtown Augusta Alliance.

Merchants acknowledged there's a problem finding enough parking places for workers, residents and patrons but asked the DDA to first seek better enforcement.

"Do the simple things first, like enforcement. By simply enforcing, we create those extra spaces," said David Hutchison, a bookstore owner and president of the Downtown Augusta Alliance. "Until you have enforcement and adjudication of tickets ... the parking meters themselves would not be effective."

Margaret Woodard, the DDA's executive director, said the authority has drafted ordinances for improved parking fine enforcement, which was part of the plan all along. The proposals are being reviewed by the city's law department.

Enforcement is being modeled on Charlotte, N.C., she said, and would use a system of mediation to collect fines. But success would rely on data from a smart meter system that provides evidence of the parking violation.

About 25 downtown merchants attended the meeting, raising issues such as creating more parking places by switching parallel spots to angular spots and including better enforcement on Saturdays.

Though the DDA has a plan to tackle the parking problem, that doesn't mean it is set in stone and will be rammed through without regard to constituents, said Sanford Loyd, the chairman of the DDA parking committee. The group considers each suggestion, he said.

As for starting with an improvement to enforcement, Loyd said enforcement requires funding.

"It comes with the cost of operating, which is a challenge. That was part of the discussion," Loyd said. "We will be challenged by how much we can do with the resources that we have, no matter how simple it sounds."

Hutchison said the enforcement could be seen as a city service.

"When we have enforcement, it produces a better traffic pattern downtown, our business prospers -- that tax revenue would be an offset," he said. "What brings the money is prosperous businesses."

Improving enforcement before the TEE center's construction and then going to meters is a common suggestion, Woodard said. A prevalent concern is where the workers and residents will park.

Woodard said the authority has been taking stock of lots and potential lots off Broad Street and will provide more information during its next public input sessions Feb. 4.

Reach Tim Rausch at (706) 823-3352 or timothy.rausch@augustachronicle.com.

UPCOMING MEETINGS

The Downtown Development Authority of Augusta will hold two public meetings to discuss its parking management initiative.

The Feb. 4 meetings at The White's Building, 936 Broad St., will include a presentation and a question-and-answer session. The first meeting is at noon; the second one starts at 6 p.m.

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