STUDENT AFFAIRS EDITOR
An employee working on Main Street may soon have to pay $2 an hour to park when surrounding areas outside the city of Newark are free. Jerry Clifton, District 2 Newark City Council member, believes the current proposal could curtail potential business to Newark.
“Why would somebody take a job at a Main Street restaurant where they have to pay $2 an hour to park, when they can go to some of the other shopping centers, not just in the city of Newark, but in the surrounding areas like Kirkwood Highway and not have to pay anything to park?” Clifton said.
Since Sept. 27, the Newark City Council has discussed a proposal, officially called Bill 17-54, that would create “peak” and “off peak” hours to determine the hourly rate for parking. The cost to park would double to $2 per hour Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The current $1 per hour rate would remain on weekends, nights and during the summer.
The City Council is also debating a proposal to change the cost of other parking meters, with meters west of Chapel Street increasing to $2 per hour and meters east of Chapel Street changing to $1 per hour.
Currently, the city manager has the power to increase parking lot fees without the Council’s consent. City code states that only parking meters require a formal vote by council to change the price.
“That is a huge problems in and of itself because the city manager can increase the lot rates for parking, but who gets the complaints? The Council does,” Clifton said. “When the city manager goes home at night, he is not getting calls saying ‘what the heck did you do raising the parking lots,’ the City Council is getting those calls. I think that’s problematic in itself to give that power to an non-elected person that is such a critical part of life in Newark.”
Clifton would like to see a code change to give the power to raise city lot rates to the City Council.
The City of Newark announced the parking fee changes at a planning commission’s parking subcommittee back on Sept. 27. Business owners and the public were given little notice of the event.
The proposal was quickly approved by the committee, which includes two business owners, Lee Mikles, co-owner of Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, and Chris Locke, general counsel and senior vice president for Lang Development Group and owner of Formal Affairs. Their businesses are located on the east end of Main Street, where it is often easier to find parking. In addition, the two owners have their own private parking lots and are not affected much by the fee hikes.
“People may say why should I go into the core of the town when I can go into the peripheria and get free parking,” Clifton said. “That is disturbing to me.”
This change would put the City of Newark in line with the current prices of on-campus university lots, which the city hopes will incentivize visitors to park in university parking garages or at metered parking to free up space for other visitors.
“If this parking rate increase does go through, what an idiot I will look like,” Donna O’Dell Hoke , owner of Unique Impressions , said at the City Council meeting on Oct. 23. “I will look like a fool to encourage people to come downtown, so their wallets can get pummeled every single time they visit us.”
At the same meeting, Mayor of Newark Polly Sierer, echoed this sentiment towards the Council because the members originally directed city staff to move forward with the price hike proposals.
“At the Oct. 2 regular budget meeting, and I’m saying this because I don’t want to to throw staff under the bus and I want the audience to know, every member of council sitting at this table was supportive of this increase and directed staff to do so,” she said. “You may look at the minutes.”
Originally, the Council supported the increase, but this meeting seemed to call attention towards the parking crisis in the city. Chris Hamilton, District 4 Newark City Council member, supports the plan, but Clifton called it “unthinkable” at the meeting on Oct 23.
“I’m not going to apologize for wanting to have a parking increase,” Hamilton said at the meeting. “Let’s just make that clear. Folks, your expenses have gone up and so have the city’s.”
Clifton still believes the plan needs to be reevaluated and reworked to address the concerns of the Newark community. He reiterated that the employees of Newark businesses could stand to lose the most if this current proposal is passed.
“I think this plan needs a lot of work before I could support it,” he said. “I would like to see a plan that is equitable to our needs as far as the income, more importantly equitable to the business community and palatable to the business community from a cost basis and most importantly put the decision making power by code back to the City Council.”
Sierer made a motion to move the parking discussion from the City Council agenda on Oct. 23 to a tentative Dec. 11 meeting when the entire City Council would be present.
Instead, the bill was read and debated at the Nov. 27 meeting.
Mark Morehead , District 1 Newark City Council member, noted that the conversation is not pleasant, but that the City is not made of money.
The bill was slated to go through a second reading on the Jan. 8 agenda. That meeting, however, was cancelled and the bill continues to be a source of discussion amongst City Council members.
Students feel that the fee hike would discourage them from parking in City of Newark lots and the Student Government Administration (SGA) is behind the push to keep rates at the current price.
“Overwhelmingly, the members of SGA are against the lot rate hikes and parking meter increases,” Natalie Criscenzo, SGA President , said in an email statement. “While we understand the City needs to increase revenue in some areas, we felt the way this was being proposed was not something we could get behind.”
Clifton also noted that all the feedback he had received regarding the proposals were negative and that employees and residents have expressed much concern.
“I have heard a few comments [from constituents] and none of them have been positive,” he said. “I think that the neighbors throughout Newark as much as they love the small town feel that we have and Main Street feel that if this were to go through at least for the first couple hours, if it were an outrageous price, I think they would seek out other places.”
Criscenzo believes that the increase would add an unnecessary burden to college students who are already struggling with student debt. Though, she says the SGA is taking steps to make students aware of the changes if the proposals were to go through.
“I know an incredible amount of students who work on Main Street and have to drive to get there, and an extra dollar per hour to pay for parking is an extra dollar per hour taken away while they are working; that is huge for a college student, and frankly anyone,” she said. “If by some chance the vote gets pushed off again, or even passes, we’ll make sure to let the students know about upcoming changes and open a line of communication between students and Council members to let them know what the students are feeling.”
The city of Newark sent out a public hearing notice for Feb. 26 in which the Newark City Council will consider the parking bill for second reading and final passage.