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In Somerville, new rules mean long lines for permits and more tickets

Posted by Travis Andersen  January 7, 2010 11:00 AM

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Nearly every street in town has a sign like this one now.

Somerville parking officers began ticketing cars without residential permits on most city streets this week, prompting long lines for stickers, a sharp rise in the number of citations issued, and frustration among local residents and business owners.

Prior to Monday, drivers needed a $15 residential permit to park on about two thirds of all city streets. Every street now requires a permit, except for 20 main thoroughfares that are open to non-residents for two-hour stretches.

The city began issuing warnings on the newly affected streets on Dec. 21, and spent months publicizing the expansion, which was scheduled to take effect last August but was delayed so a parking task force of residents, city officials, and business leaders could tweak the measure.

Many drivers appear to have either missed the memo or waited too long to get a permit. On Monday and Tuesday, parking officers wrote 606 tickets, according to city records, compared to 189 on Dec. 21 and 22, when the warnings started. Violators pay a $50 fine for each offense.

Lines at the Traffic and Parking Office have spilled out the door this week on Holland Street with residents scrambling to get permits. The office extended its hours until 7 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday - and opened on two Saturdays before Christmas - to accommodate the rush, but some residents still walked away empty-handed, including Justin Ashton, a hybrid vehicle entrepreneur who lives near Union Square.

He said he first tried to get a permit in late December, then came back at around 6 p.m. on Tuesday and left when he saw that he'd never make it through the line before closing. He spoke with a Globe reporter outside the office on Wednesday afternoon, after striking out again. This time, he said, he had to get back to work and couldn't wait in line, adding that he hasn't received a ticket yet.

"It's getting down to the wire," Ashton said.

Elizabeth Graham, a social worker who lives in Winter Hill, recently moved from a street that required a residential permit before the expansion, so she's had her sticker for a while. But she came to the office on Wednesday to buy two visitor permits, which cost $5 each. Non-resident guests can use the passes two days a week.

Graham didn't think she'd need the visitor passes when she moved, but her street now falls under the residential expansion.

"I think it's the city's best way to make revenue," she said. "I'm not terribly happy about it."

George Ross, owner of Ross Real Estate on Broadway, is livid. He said many of his brokers live outside the city, and now they can't park on streets near the office. And, he said, they'll have to worry about getting tickets when they're on the road showing properties.

"We should get a new mayor," he said.

The city offers 12-month realtor permits for $50, which allow brokers to park their cars anywhere in the city while showing properties. General business permits are available for $150, and the city offers stickers for other groups including non-resident artists, worshippers, and landlords.

But some business owners working in residential zones are facing additional challenges, according to Stephen Mackey, president of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce.

He said that in one case, the new rules left a convenience store owner with just a loading zone and no customer parking for nonresidents, and the chamber pushed successfully to reestablish the parking.

Mackey said the chamber has six members on the parking task force advocating for impacted businesses.

"We've been on top of this from the get-go," Mackey said.

The need for all manner of permits has risen dramatically in the months leading up to the expansion. City spokesperson Tom Champion recently told the Globe that the city issued over 3,200 residential permits in the final three months of 2009, compared to more than 1,300 during the same period in 2008.

And on Monday and Tuesday, the city issued 2,506 residential, visitor, and special permits, according to Champion.

"That's a lot of permits," he said.

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