After spending the last few months listening to the concerns of downtown Lewes merchants, residents and transportation officials, business district parking committee member Darica Ward said it may be time for Lewes to take a chance.
“Lewes is a community of visionaries,” she said, pointing to Shipcarpenter Square and Canalfront Park. “I want to be that community that says this is where we’re going, so let’s figure out how to get there. If we craft our vision very clearly and we stick to that vision, we will make all of [the current] issues irrelevant.”
The business community expressed a desire for a parking garage at the committee’s previous meeting in September. She said it doesn’t have to be just about parking.
“There’s some really cool things happening across the United States in communities where they’re getting together to solve a problem,” she said. “In Portland, Ore., they did a parking garage that’s a living garden. How cool is that?”
Matt DiSabatino, a Lewes restaurateur, said a parking garage could also serve multiple purposes. The ground level could be converted into shops or the top could be used as event space with a beautiful view.
“I think there’s a misperception that if we move forward with a parking garage ... that the town will become too busy,” he said. “The volume of people is already here, and there’s going to be more whether or not we do this.”
After discussing a parking garage with fellow merchants, Ward said, the ideal location is the M&T Bank lot at the corner of Third and Market streets. The privately owned lot is available to bank customers, and limited spaces are open to guests of Hotel Rodney.
Mayor Ted Becker is planning to meet with the Delaware president of M&T Bank about the possibility of constructing a parking garage on the property. He said the bank was receptive to a meeting, but he did not get a sense of how bank officials view the idea.
DiSabatino also pitched a simpler solution to increase parking inventory. By making Third Street a one-way road, he said, street parking could be reconfigured for angled parking.
If traffic moved the opposite direction of Second Street, a loop could be created for people searching for parking.
“There are a lot of neighboring desirable towns in this area, and they’re all facing the same problems,” DiSabatino said. “Why not Lewes be first at addressing things like this?”
Becker said Lewes may have to think outside the box to improve parking.
“We are going to have to take some risks and experiment with some things,” Becker said.
The committee continued to discuss replacing parking meters. The existing meters are old and must be replaced, but city staff is trying to determine the preference of downtown merchants, residents and visitors regarding pay stations versus single-space meters.
Single-space meters are cheaper upfront, but will require annual fees and more manpower for upkeep. Meters must be emptied twice a week, said Parking Supervisor Dennis Crawford.
Kiosks will offer users the ability to re-feed the meter from any station in town and can send people notifications on their phone when time is running low.
Crawford added that with kiosks, it would be much easier to program changes to fees, times and other functions, such as Fourth of July, when the meters were extended later this past summer.
If officials move forward with pay stations, Lewes Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Betsy Reamer said it must be user friendly.
“The last thing we need is give people another reason to not come to town,” she said. “The technology has got to be simple.”
Committee member Nancy Staisey said a move to pay stations is all about the finer details. It’s important the city consider where stations are placed, and how visible and accessible they are, she said. The appearance of kiosks would be an important factor, she said.
Ward said pay stations capable of accepting coins, paper money and credit cards would likely be cheered by customers, who will no longer have to carry quarters with them. An easy user experience is paramount, she said.
“The user interface has to be in line with what people are trained on,” she said, specifically mentioning touch screens and scrolling features. “Everyone is using a smartphone now.”
Discussion turned to expansion of the metered area. A place most committee members agree would benefit from meters is along Kings Highway from Third Street up to the residential area past the Lewes Chamber of Commerce. Reamer said those spaces are often taken up for eight or more hours by employees of downtown merchants. People visiting the chamber, Zwaanendael Museum or Zwaanendael Park are not able to park, especially if they are quickly running into the chamber for information or to pick up an item, she said.
Staisey warned that by metering the area, workers would likely move into the residential area and park in front of people’s homes.
The committee will meet again Wednesday, Nov. 14, when they are expected to discuss parking permits and signage and continue discussion on parking meters and a parking garage.