Conversations on the City of Delaware’s proposed increase to the downtown parking rates continued on Monday during a meeting of the Delaware City Council. The meeting included a second reading of the ordinance, as well as a public hearing in which several downtown business owners spoke in opposition to the proposal.
As part of the ordinance, the parking rates at metered spaces would increase from 25 cents per hour to $1 per hour or 25 cents per 15-minute increments. According to the city, the rate increase would represent “approximately a three-fold increase in revenue from parking for the 2023 fiscal year.”
However, while the increased rates might be a financial win for the city, what it could mean for downtown businesses has been a point of contention since the ordinance came into consideration.
Mark Smiles, the owner of The Greater Gouda and The Rutherford Cafe, said his biggest issue with the ordinance is the sudden and significant jump the increase represents for employees downtown. “It’s hard enough to find and keep good employees, and it’s important for parking to be affordable,” he said, adding the city needs to address the lack of available parking downtown first and foremost.
Beanbag Books owner Michael Everett echoed Smiles’ sentiments, saying, “I don’t necessarily have a problem with the rate increase in and of itself. I think the jump from a quarter to a dollar an hour in one leap is too much. I think that should be done incrementally just to provide some time for people to adjust to it. If someone who is working in a restaurant and making minimum wage has to park in a lot, they’re basically working the first hour for free. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.”
Everett added that while he believes dedicated permits for employees are a sound idea to alleviate some of the owners’ concerns, such a system needs to be in place and well-communicated prior to the parking rate increases going into effect.
Fresh Start Cafe and Bakery owner Todd Daughenbaugh wrapped up the public hearing by noting the timing of the proposal being warranted with the perceived end of the pandemic is misguided when looking at it through the eyes of the many business owners who will feel the detriment of the increased rates.
“Although it may feel to you that the pandemic is over, the impact of this pandemic on small businesses is going to last for years,” he told council. “We are still struggling to catch up to where we should have been three years ago, and I think this is going to be a disincentive to come downtown. Downtown already has a negative connotation about parking, and people avoid downtown. This is going to be one more reason.”
Daughenbaugh went on to say there will be a “ripple effect” for business owners already struggling to find employees when employees ask for wage increases to cover the cost of parking downtown. Inevitably, he said, supervisors and managers are going to want increases in line with those employees as well.
“We already have a lot of trouble finding employees, and this is just going to add to that,” he said.
During the first reading of the ordinance on Feb. 13, City Manager Tom Homan stated the city is looking at surface lots downtown to serve as dedicated permit parking for employees. On Monday, he reiterated those efforts are still in progress.
“We are evaluating some options on Spring Street, either where we are currently taking down those buildings or we do own property across the street as well,” Homan said. “So we’re looking at that as a way to increase the off-street parking supply. We’ll be able to report back on that at the next meeting.”
The prospect of using the Spring Street lots for employee parking wasn’t sufficient for Daughenbaugh, however, and he challenged the notion that downtown employees should be the ones who are relegated to parking at the furthest reaches of the downtown district.
“My bakers come to work at 3 a.m., and they’re going to walk from Spring Street at 3 a.m.?” he questioned. “We have people who close restaurants and bars at 2-3 a.m., and they’re going to walk at that time? I think to put an outlined parking lot and then say, ‘Here, you go park out there,’ I would hope every single council member and every single city employee can park out there, too, and use these spaces (near City Hall) for downtown parking.”
The ordinance will head to a third reading, which will be held at the next council meeting scheduled for Monday, March 13.