Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 15
 
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
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Council Passes Parking Fee Extension

Dilshanie Perera

In two close votes last Tuesday, Borough Council approved of charging for parking at meters on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., extending meter hours until 8 p.m. seven days a week, charging the regular rates on Sundays at the Spring Street municipal garage, and allowing for monthly permitted spaces to be sold at the garage. The parking changes are expected to bring the Borough $400,000 in revenue.

Members of the public came to comment on the two parking ordinances, including a number of local merchants who lamented that the extension of fees would further impact their businesses in the down economy.

The more contentious ordinance involved levying a Sunday fee and extending fee collection until 8 p.m. on meters in the Central Business District, which encompasses the area bounded by Nassau Street, Vandeventer Avenue, Wiggins Street, Paul Robeson Place, and Chambers Street.

Council members David Goldfarb, Roger Martindell, and Kevin Wilkes voted in favor of the fee increase and extension, while Council members Andrew Koontz and Barbara Trelstad voted against the ordinance. Margaret Karcher was not present.

“Most of us are hanging on by a hair,” said Kathie Morolda, owner of the Cranbury Station Galleries in Palmer Square and president of the Borough Merchants for Princeton. “We are desperately trying to salvage our businesses,” she continued, adding that an extension of fees on Sundays would be tantamount to a punishment, “by making it that much harder for us to survive.”

Owner of the Place to Bead Doris Figueroa mentioned that she hosts special events and tells her customers to come into town on Sundays precisely because streetside parking is free. Additionally, she encourages her employees to park in the municipal garage on Sundays since the rate is affordable.

Extending meter fees to include Sundays “could have a material effect on the quality of life and the way people think about coming in to Princeton,” cautioned resident Jonathan Adams, who added that “the fact no one has done a scenario analysis as to how the increase will affect merchants is disconcerting.”

“Sunday might be the difference for a lot of businesses to be able to cut it,” Barry Weisfeld of the Princeton Record Exchange said, referring to whether merchants would be able to stay afloat in the depressed economy.

Henry Landau of Landau’s on Nassau Street agreed, saying “We do more hour for hour on Sunday, because people aren’t rushing around.” He underscored the importance of keeping customers coming into town in order to bolster business and keep the downtown dynamic and vibrant.

Borough Council was split on the issue, with Mr. Goldfarb saying that he was “perfectly willing to concede that enforcing meters on Sunday will have a gross effect on consequential retail sales … but despite that, I am willing to impose Sunday parking,” adding that “there has never been a time where the merchant community has come to us and not said ‘we are suffering.’ I think it’s just a fact of life.”

Saying that she had been looking at other areas of the budget, namely leaf collection and vehicular use, Ms. Trelstad noted that she had become “sympathetic to the merchants’ position,” and that she thought equivalent savings could be found in those other areas.

Mr. Koontz likewise opposed the ordinance, saying that “life is becoming increasingly more difficult this year for our downtown. This is the wrong time for Princeton Borough to take the unusual step of perhaps being the only place in the world that charges for parking on Sundays.”

Characterizing the parking issue as one of equity, Mr. Martindell said that “taxpayers pay a greater proportion to Borough operations relative to persons who park cars every year … and that is an imbalance in my view.” Highlighting the goal of a zero-cent tax increase, he called both ordinances a vehicle for providing equity to the taxpayers.

“One of the traditional reasons for charging fees at meters is to have turnover, and if there’s more turnover, there will be more business downtown,” Mr. Martindell continued.

Mr. Wilkes believed the change to be equitable, adding that he wanted to “reach out to all of you in the business community” for “better collective organization” and “better planning.” A letter from Mr. Wilkes concerning parking downtown can be found in the Mailbox section of this week’s issue of Town Topics.

Representing another section of the community affected by the Sunday parking fee levy, Pastor Harvey Sparkman of the Mount Pisgah AME Church urged Council to consider beginning parking fee collection an hour later so that congregation members wouldn’t have to worry about expired meters in the middle of a sermon. A motion by Mr. Koontz to begin collection hours at 2 p.m. failed.

Travis Linderman of the Borough Merchants for Princeton spoke as the son of one of the pastors of the church on Chambers Street, noting that the churches do bring a number of people into Princeton who often stay after the sermon to enjoy the downtown.

The ordinance to extend fees and to charge on Sundays passed in a 3-2 vote, provoking audible disapproval among the merchants. Mr. Landau said after the meeting that juxtaposing taxpayers and merchants didn’t make sense, “We’re all one, not separate.” He characterized the ordinance as unfairly “pitting merchants against homeowners, pitting merchants against Borough employees, and pitting merchants against their customers.”

Mitch Forest of Forest Jewelers also expressed frustration at the decision, noting that the change would likely “put stores out of business, cause a decrease in employment in the community, and affect the quality of life in town.”

The other parking ordinance approved that evening involved charging regular rates at the Spring Street municipal garage on Sundays, and allowing for 50 monthly permits to be sold for spaces in the garage.

Mr. Goldfarb opposed the ordinance on the grounds that the original impetus for building the garage was for short-term parking only. Mr. Koontz opposed the ordinance “because people are not shopping as they once were, which is having an impact on our downtown.”

Council members Martindell, Trelstad, and Wilkes supported the ordinance.

Many Borough residents expressed sympathy for the merchants, and support for one or both of the parking ordinances.

“I’m indifferent to the issue of permits, but I think parking fees on Sundays are an appropriate measure. People can park two blocks away if they don’t want to pay,” said resident Peter Wolanin.

Another Hornor Lane property owner told Council that she had lost her job, and thousands of dollars in retirement savings over the past few months. “The tax rate went up five cents last year, and that’s absolutely appalling to me,” she said.

Resident Dianne Sadoff said that over the past three years of living in Princeton, “my taxes have gone through the roof, but my equity is down,” adding that “the taxpayers are struggling an unbelievable amount, and we’re all taking pay cuts too.”

Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi said that the parking changes would be phased in gradually, though the garage “would be the first to be modified.” The machines in the parking garage need to be reprogrammed, and new signage and stickers for the meters need to be obtained. “We will start with a ‘soft enforcement,’ which will be phased out over a period of weeks” so that those parking downtown can adjust to the new policy.

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