Free parking spaces return to downtown

Prompted by complaints from citizens and business owners, the Gainesville City Commission voted 5-1 to suspend changes to downtown parking.

The commission passed a set of changes in August that, among other things, converted free two-hour spaces in high-demand areas of downtown to metered parking costing $1 per hour.

The changes went into effect in January, but the city didn’t begin issuing traffic citations until February. Pushback from downtown parkers and business owners made the commission reconsider its decision.

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“I think that it’s important that we need to recognize that we may have jumped out a little too quickly with this program,” Commissioner Harvey Ward said during Thursday’s afternoon session.

The commission did not rescind its August order, but instead voted 5-1 to suspend the parking changes until June 1.

“In all areas where there had been free parking downtown, the payment requirement and signs will be removed,” said Rossana Passaniti, the city’s public information officer, in an email. “The free 2-hour parking signs for those spaces will be reinstalled.”

Spaces that were metered before the August ordinance change will remain paid spaces.

The commissioners did ask the city’s parking ambassadors to enforce the two-hour time limit on the once-again-free spots to keep people from parking in them all day.

The changes passed in August were intended to standardized rates in the downtown area and to move longer-term parking from on-street spots to the city’s surface lots and parking garages.

As part of those changes, the hourly parking rate was dropped to 50 cents an hour at the Southwest Parking Garage as well as surface parking lots at City Hall and the federal court building and city-owned lots off of Southwest First Street and Northwest 2nd Avenue. The surface lots have a four-hour time limit.

The city’s Lot 2 at the intersection of Northwest 2nd Avenue and Pleasant Street was to remain free with no time limits under the August changes.

It is not clear how suspending the August changes will impact the fees and limits at the surface lots and the Southwest Parking Garage. Passaniti said “no immediate timeline has been established” for returning to pre-August fee levels.

Several local business owners showed up to the meeting to complain about the parking changes, along with the chair of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). Having to use a parking app to pay for some parking spots was among the complaints, because the app is inaccessible for people without smartphones, data plans or credit cards.

The street parking around the Alachua County Administration Building on Southeast First Street was changed to $1 per hour metered parking under the changes. BOCC Chair Marihelen Wheeler told the city that the changes surprised her and some of her non-Gainesville constituents.

“Folks in the outlying municipalities coming in to do government business were not aware that changes had been made to parking,” Wheeler said. “When I invite people from the outlying communities to come see me at the office, I realize what I am doing is setting them up for a confusing situation.”

Commissioners said they intend to get input from local businesses and residents before moving forward on any additional alterations to downtown.

During public comments on the motion, Commissioner-elect Cynthia Chestnut told the commission: “The bottom line is that we are diverting people, we’re driving people from downtown and negatively affecting our downtown merchants. And most of all we are inconveniencing our neighbors.”

Mayor Lauren Poe was the only member of the city commission to vote against suspending the parking ordinance. Chestnut will not join the commission formally until her Feb. 17 swearing in.

Downtown Gainesville map

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