A group of downtown Lewes merchants is asking the city to install parking meters in the Third Street lot, eliminating free parking there.
Paying to park would increase turnover and give more visitors and customers opportunities to find spaces, shop owners say.
Gavin Braithwaite, co-owner of Puzzles and Lewes Gourmet, both on Front Street, submitted the proposal to mayor and city council at the panel’s December meeting.
Mayor Jim Ford said the city’s traffic advisory committee would review the proposal and make a recommendation.
Business owners suggest an ordinance change now would give the city time to adjust its budget, purchase and install equipment and signage and be ready this spring.
“In the total scheme of Lewes’ commercial district parking, this change is a small one, but one that will render large benefits,” business owners said.
Merchants conducted a random survey of the parking lot from late August through early October and found motorists park there all day and sometimes for several days.
“This hurts downtown Lewes’ attractions and businesses, since spaces are continuously occupied all day by employee and resident vehicles,” the proposal states.
Merchants said by metering the lot, the city could reap revenue of more than $7,000 a year. The number is based on the lot’s 18 spaces, used for nine hours daily at 75 cents an hour during the 168-day parking- meter season at 35 percent occupancy.
The group said the lot’s occupancy rate is higher than the overall city average because it’s centrally located adjacent to the business district.
“Lewes currently has 163 metered spaces in and adjacent to the downtown area. Adding the Third Street municipal lot would increase the total number of metered spaces by 11 percent,” the proposal states.
The merchants’ group admits the proposal has advantages and drawbacks. Benefits include easier access for visitors and customers to downtown businesses, museums and other attractions.
On the downside, there would no longer be free parking in the business district for employees who work downtown, and free parking for a few homeowners and apartment dwellers in the area would also be eliminated.
“During metered months, the Third Street lot would still be available for free overnight parking. However, to park during the business day, car owners would have to consider whether to step out for fitness by walking a few blocks, or whether to pay the meter as customers and visitors would do,” the proposal states.
During months when parking meters are not active, anyone may use the lot without restrictions.
Merchants say displacing employees and business district residents from the 18-space lot during the meter season (May through mid-October) represents a relatively small impact.
The proposal states many employees and residents in the business district handle their summer parking needs in a variety of ways.
Merchants say some people walk or bicycle, park in a friend’s driveway, use merchant-friendly parking lots, are dropped off, carpool or simply plug the meter.