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Parking fine hike meets resistance

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Downtown business representatives want Columbus to reconsider proposed $50 parking tickets, saying the fines will drive visitors and customers away.

If implemented, the fee would be the “kiss of death for downtown,” said Lou Marr, who owns properties in the 400 block of Washington Street.

At Tuesday’s Columbus City Council meeting, Downtown Merchants Association members and business owners said they would prefer paid parking instead of increased parking fines.

Paid parking means meters or kiosks would be located downtown, where visitors would pay for the designated time they wish to park in a space.

“The excessive fee of $50 is designed to stop the abusers of the current three-hour system rather than welcome the users of our vibrant downtown,” said Diane Robbins, who manages community relations and marketing for kidscommons.

Downtown merchants are concerned that increased parking fines won’t be perceived as welcoming, said John Pickett, a co-owner of Baker’s Fine Gifts & Accessories. He said he and his colleagues are worried that the proposed fines are so punitive that they would make people think twice about coming downtown.

And that could negatively impact the recent progress in the downtown area, Robbins said.

“Columbus has worked very hard, and with great success, to energize downtown,” she said. “It is an exciting place to work and visit. The proposal of implementing a $50 fee for second-time offenders seems to derail all of the growth that everyone has worked so hard to create.”

Tom Dell, co-owner of Dell Brothers in downtown Columbus and a member of the committee, said the fines won’t fix the problems with downtown parking.

“When you offer free parking, people are going to abuse it,” he said.

Instead of increasing fines, Dell said, the city should implement paid parking, which would create availability by allowing vehicles to rotate through parking spaces.

People who visit downtown are “happy to pay for parking,” Robbins said, because they want to be able to more easily find a spot and to stay downtown for longer than three hours without moving their vehicles.

The increased parking fines are part of a proposal from a city parking committee made up of city and downtown business representatives. The committee was formed to recommend how to use suggestions in Columbus’ downtown parking study.

Boston-based Nelson/Nygaard spent months evaluating downtown parking and recommended that the city install paid parking downtown. Mayor Kristen Brown, who did not favor going to paid parking immediately, asked consultants to add an alternative without paid parking.

The committee was formed to work with city departments to implement ideas that did not involve paid parking.

Among the committee’s first recommendations was to improve enforcement of the city’s three-hour timed parking limit downtown by increasing parking ticket fines.

A parking monitor currently charts vehicle times and locations by hand on a legal pad to monitor the three-hour timed limit downtown.

First-time downtown parking violators would continue to receive a free warning ticket under the proposed fee structure. But the second violation would be a $50 ticket, compared to a $10 ticket issued now.

A proposed ordinance that would increase the parking fines could go before the council at its Aug. 5 meeting, said city council President Dascal Bunch, who also serves on the committee.

Wording on the ordinance isn’t final, however, he said.

Bunch cautioned that any paid parking system would have a hefty up-front cost. Bloomington spent about $1 million for installation and equipment to add single-space parking meters last year.

And even if the council approves the increased parking fines, there’s no guarantee the fines will continue, Bunch said.

The city is taking things one step at a time and can always go back and change the ordinance if the parking fines don’t work as intended, he said.

But the hope, he said, is that the fines will work and make parking downtown a lot better.

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