(Updated at 7:45 p.m. to include comment from Ellicott City Business Association president Dave Carne.)
More paid parking is coming to Ellicott City, but there appears to be zero consensus among merchants as to whether that’s a good thing.
On the agenda at a Howard County Council public hearing Tuesday was legislation that would raise parking rates in some of the Historic District’s parking lots and set the rates at the new, multi-space meters that will be installed later this year.
Testimony, however, focused not on the rate increases, but on the plan to add parking meters on Main Street and Maryland Avenue, a plan that the Council was not required to approve and does not have the authority to stop.
For business owners, the issue was not that customers will have to pay, but whether or not paid parking will create more parking turnover – opponents don’t seem to think so while supporters do.
“The administration’s position is that having this charge will turn over the vehicles more quickly?” Council person Courtney Watson, whose district includes Main Street, asked Stephen Lafferty, director of special projects for the Department of Planning and Zoning.
That was the county’s position, Lafferty said.
“The Main Street spaces are the ones where we want to get visitors to come, customers to come, then to leave that space for another visitor,” he said, not to allow it to be used repeatedly by the same people.
The new rates -- $1 per hour on Main Street and Maryland Avenue and an increase of up to 50 cents per hour in the lot behind the Howard County Welcome Center and the Talbot lot – would encourage shoppers who planned to stay longer to park in the lots, allowing for more turnover on the streets.
A time limit will still be in effect for Main Street and Maryland Avenue once meters are installed, though visitors who do not pay for a full two hours when they park can add value to their parking using a cell phone application.
Supporting the plan was the Ellicott City Restoration Foundation Inc., represented at Tuesday’s hearing by Edward Lilley, the Foundation’s president; some business owners; and Ellicott City residents who shop – but do not live – on Main Street.
Grace Kubofcik said that she frequented Main Street, often with her grandkids, which can make walking from one of the lots a chore. “I would like the convenience, when I do need it, that I be able to park in front of the place.”
The fact that there was a problem when it came to parking on Main Street was echoed by both supporters and opponents of the new plan.
“As a small business owner on Main Street, I am intimately familiar with the parking difficulties,” testified Tammy Beideman, owner of Sweet Elizabeth Jane. “I’m in favor of this legislation,” she said.
Beidman lamented seeing customers leave because after lunch and going to one store, they ran out of parking options.
“Parking is always going to be a hot topic around town,” she said.
Still Life Art Gallery co-owner Sara Arditti spoke against the plan to install new meters, saying that what Main Street really needed was more parking, a sentiment echoed by former Ellicott City Business Association President Len Berkowitz.
Arditti said that the ECBA endorsed the plan, and, “We’re not represented by the ECBA.”
However, current ECBA president Dave Carne, owner of the Wine Bin, wrote in an email to Patch: "The ECBA as an organization has not taken an official position on this issue, hence there is no endorsement."
Arditti said was upset that she and other businesses were not included in the earlier stages of the discussion. “Many business owners were not aware of the program at all until last month,” at a meeting on August 21.
She also said that the parking application that the county plans to introduce – whereby drivers can find available parking spaces on their phone – would foster illegal activity: using a cell phone while driving. “There’s no place to pull over on Main Street” and check for a spot.
Main Street resident Peter Edelen brought an additional perspective to the discussion. Edelen testified that when he moved to Main Street six years ago, “I knew the challenges with parking, but I adjusted. I know I’ll have to do it again, but I’m not really comfortable with the fact that I live on the lower part of the street and I’ll be completely surrounded by meters.”
The Council will discuss further the parking rate increases – and the rate for the new meters – at its next work session, Monday, Sept. 24 at 4:30 p.m. in the George Howard Building.