Several weeks ago, more than 100 residents of downtown Durham got a notice in the mail, and they weren’t too happy about it.
The notice told them they would have to start paying to park their cars at home.
“Everyone was flabbergasted,” said Marcia McNally, who lives in a Kress Building condominium.
Not many of the now-fashionable downtown apartments and condominiums come with parking lots. And as long as Durham folks have been living downtown – some for 30 years – they’ve been parking a vehicle or two for free in a public garage.
But in early August, the city’s parking contractor, Lanier Parking Services, informed them that, as of Oct. 1, there would be a charge as much as $90 a month.
“I understand this creates a lot of angst,” said City Councilman Don Moffitt, when McNally and other displeased downtown residents, some of whom pioneered downtown living decades ago, brought their complaints to the City Council Sept. 5.
After a flood of irate calls and emails, city authorities put off enforcing the new rates – $10 a month for evenings and weekends only, $45 to $65 a month for non-reserved spaces weekdays and weekends parking, $90 for reserved garage space 24/7 – until January, at the earliest. And City Council members expressed surprise at the turn of events as well.
“Are we talking about an increase over free?” asked Councilman Eugene Brown.
“Yes,” said condo owner Jamie Hahn.
The rate increases were a recommendation in a draft downtown parking survey circulated for comment last spring. The downtown Partners Against Crime held a meeting about it in April, where members expressed opinions, expecting to be informed of revisions and further hearings.
The next thing they heard, McNally and others said, was Lanier’s letter.
“We expected a chance to see the final report and comment,” said Scott Harmon, facilitator for the downtown PAC. What we did not expect was ... the city went forward implementing charging the residents downtown who up until now have been able to get a complimentary pass or two.”
The final parking study has yet to be finished, according to city Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen It should be ready for council review this month.
Nevertheless, council members discussed the draft’s proposed parking fee increases at their May 23 work session and the residents’ pending charges were reported in The Durham News before they were adopted on June 3.
“To say I am shocked, angry and disappointed in the council would be an understatement,” downtown resident Coke Ariail wrote in a letter to council members. Ariail bought the building where he and his wife, Kate, live in 1983.
Once residential development began downtown, around 1990, he said, it became clear that free or very inexpensive parking was vital to attracting residents. On Nov. 2, 1992, the council voted to allow residents non-reserved parking for free.
In 1999, the council voted to impose a $10 monthly fee for residents, but the charge was enforced only sporadically. Rather, about 125 residents hold free passes issued to them through Lanier.
“Sounds like what we have was an unwritten policy that turned into a practice,” said Mayor Bill Bell.
Since the September work session, Marcia McNally said, there have been multiple meetings of residents and city officials. The downtown PAC and Downtown Durham Inc. are engaged as well, and everyone is waiting for the council to act on the final parking study.
“This all has to play out,” she said.
For the time being, McNally said, the $10 monthly fee is supposed be enforced “until this all gets sorted out.” What happens then remains to be seen, and residents have parking issues beyond what it costs, she said: such as the “horse trading” between City Hall and developers about dedicated parking spaces.
The main thing for those who call downtown home is to be included in decisions that affect them, she said.
“There is a neighborhood downtown now and we want to participate,” McNally said. “We are not a ‘NIMBY’ group, we are just people who want to create a neighborhood and participate in good faith.”