MANCHESTER — The prospect of meter readers on patrol 12 hours a day across the entire downtown area isn’t being greeted warmly by residents, business owners and patrons in the area.
Under new parking rules, which will likely come up for a final vote at the Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting next week, meters will be enforced from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. throughout downtown, from Harrison Street to the north, Valley Street to the south, Canal Street to the west and Union Street to the east.
Currently, 12-hour meters are in force in the core of downtown, but the new rules would extend enforcement to areas where there are only scattered businesses.
One of those businesses is the North End Framers Market, a frame shop and gallery on Elm Street near the intersection with Orange Street, a long block north of Bridge Street. If the new rules are approved, the area will see meter enforcement extended from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“Say someone goes out to dinner, they have to go out (to feed the meter) after two hours, while they’re eating dinner,” said Christine King, the proprietor of the store. “It’s not very welcoming for downtown.”
King added that she might be more understating of the extended meter hours if her stretch of downtown had received some of the improvements the central business district had.
“Maybe if they fixed our sidewalks,” she said. “We have no Christmas decorations up here, no planters. We should get everything, not just an increase in our parking.”
In addition to extended meter hours at the rate of 75 cents an hour, the new parking ordinances would raise the cost of monthly permits for most lots and garages, as well as for downtown street parking, by $10.
Another ordinance would establish a $100-a-year permit that residents of the area could purchase.
This, along with the extended meter enforcement in areas that are largely residential, is also a sore point for residents and patrons of downtown.
Bob Gagnon, who lives in the area, noted that downtown is home to many low-income people.
“There’s people living in apartments that are on fixed incomes,” Gagnon said, adding that he knew a disabled person that had just been issued two parking tickets in one day.
Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, who represents downtown, said he intends to offer an amendment to the resident permit ordinance that would lower the cost to $50 to $75 a year and make it possible for multiple members of a residence to use the permit. Still, he added, he didn’t think there should be any kind of economic waiver from the permit requirement.
“Every economic class has the right to live in downtown, but when you start passing ordinances waiving somebody, it creates a problem. It creates a status where other people are upset about the people with waivers, and that doesn’t help,” he said.
Long noted that he, too, would have to purchase a resident permit.
The parking ordinances have gone through several aldermanic committees and have received preliminary approval by the full board.
Speaking more broadly about the extended meter hours, Long said this was in keeping with the recommendations presented by a parking consultant three years ago.
“It’s going to be the same price, so there’s no confusion. You come to Manchester and every metered spot is the same price, the same time,” he said.
The proposed ordinance changes are projected to generate an additional $500,000 a year in revenue for the city.
However, Roy Arsenault, the owner of two commercial buildings on the northern end of Elm Street, questioned the wisdom of having such intense parking enforcement in a downtown that is only in the early stages of a revival.
“It may generate revenue for the city, but most cities would want to keep people in town after the end of the business day, rather than discourage them,” he said. “The biggest concern is people from out of town who don’t know, even though it’s posted, that you have to pay for parking at 7 at night. Most cities don’t do that.”