Local businesses on Gedney Street scored a marginal victory when the City Council Committee on Ordinances, Licenses & Legal Affairs met at City Hall on Monday night, but the parking war in Salem is far from over.
The committee voted to recommend the removal of posts from both sides of Gedney Street, as well as in front Steve's Quality Market and the post office on Margin Street, which were recently installed in preparation for the areas first parking meters. The motion still must pass a full city council vote next week to receive approval.
The mayor's office has already rescinded its plan to install the meters in response to backlash from business owners, but the feeling that they have been slighted throughout the early stages of the city's new comprehensive parking plan has the property owners and entrepreneurs in the area wanting the metal symbols of contention removed.
About 15-20 owners and employees of businesses on Margin and Gedney streets appeared before the city council after gathering more than 4,000 signatures on a petition against the meters, more signatures than there were voters in the city's last general election.
"We'll get 4,000 more if we have to," said Chris Ortega, a barber at New Life Cuts on Gedney Street. "Every single one of our clients had a problem with it."
The posts were a surprise to many when they appeared last week. The city has held more than 30 public meetings over the past three years detailing the parking issue, the plan and the study that led to it, but business owners charge that they were never personally informed.
Among other things, the new plan aims to regulate parking in a more balanced way as opposed to the seemingly random combination of signs, meters and differing time limits seen throughout the downtown area. But business owners that have never had meters near their shops fear that the appearance of them will drive away customers. The four-hour limit on new meters also draws ire from those who value the quick turnover of parking spaces.
"The tourists are going to take over the whole four hours, they're going to feed the meters, we're going to have no place for our clients to park," said Lisa Haefner, a hairdresser at Salon L'Ondina on Gedney Street. "Even downtown on Washington Street only has two hour parking meters, why do we warrant four hour parking meters? It doesn't take four hours to go in an get a loaf of bread and a thing of milk at Steve's Market, it doesn't take four hours to get your hair cut, it doesn't take four hours to go into the liquor store and get a bottle of wine, and it doesn't take four hours to go into the post office and mail a letter."
As part of the new plan, the city will offer $25 monthly passes for garages and lots as a way to deter people from feeding the meters and abusing the time limit.
Tom Daniels, Salem's economic development manager, also made sure to note that the council must keep in mind that small business owners are not the only people in need of spaces on the street.
"We're looking to have a system that's equitable, so that it's fair to everyone. We're trying to balance different users." Daniels said. "We have residents who maybe live out at Witchcraft Heights that want to come downtown, we have residents who live downtown and they have a different set of parking objectives, we have tourists that are coming, we have commuters that are coming. We have all these different users using the same parking supply and we're trying to balance those things out."