A valet service for downtown Lewes may be brought back to the table as the business district parking committee continues searching for answers to the city’s parking problems.
In 2015, a coalition of restaurants proposed a valet on Second Street, but the plan did not move forward. Matt DiSabatino, owner of three downtown restaurants, admitted the plan was pitched to city council poorly and needed more work.
Now a member of the parking committee, DiSabatino has brought the idea back to the table for reconsideration.
“That’s one way to increase inventory immediately without having to build a structure,” he said.
The business district parking committee has been meeting since the summer, discussing a variety of options to make downtown more accessible to visitors. Ideas have ranged from a parking garage on a private parking lot at the corner of Market Street and Third Street to a jitney service to transport people from remote parking lots to downtown. The group has also discussed changing the traffic pattern on Third Street to create more parking spaces.
To date, the committee has voted to recommend adding meters to the stretch of Kings Highway in front of the Zwaanendael Museum to the beginning of the residential neighborhood, creating as many as 14 spaces. By metering the area, the committee hopes to create a quicker turnaround for cars, and to deter downtown employees from parking there for their entire shift.
Mayor Ted Becker and a contingent from Lewes met with M&T Bank’s Delaware President Nick Lambro in November. Lambro said the bank was not interested in selling its lot, but they are open to working with the city to add more public parking. Following more pushback from the public, Becker said he’s had subsequent conversations with bank officials about the lot, and they are standing firm on their lack of interest in selling the lot.
Becker said very rough sketches of a reconfigured M&T lot suggest the city could add up to 20 parking spaces. It’s unclear how many the bank would retain or if the neighboring Hotel Rodney would require any additional spaces.
The committee continues to discuss a jitney service to move people to and from downtown. The free city lot on Schley Avenue is rarely used and would be a prime location, Becker said. He said it’s possible an arrangement could also be worked out with Beebe Healthcare to use its stone parking lot behind Bethel United Methodist Church cemetery on weekends.
It’s still unclear if a jitney service would target downtown employees or visitors. DiSabatino said employees would require the jitney to be in service later than if it were intended for visitors.
If the city decided to move forward with a valet service, he said, the ideal place to store vehicles would be the Schley Avenue lot. A valet service would likely make a jitney unfeasible.
The Schley lot can hold about 35 vehicles, but at least twice as many could be stored there if used by a valet service, DiSabatino said.
“That lot is not getting used [a lot],” he said. “If we can double the amount through a service, then I think you start to change [public] perception a little bit because the city now has a valet service that’s available.”
Another possible location, he said, is a portion of the lot at the Little League complex on Pilottown Road.
DiSabatino said he’s been discussing the idea with an Annapolis-based valet company, and he plans to invite the company to attend a future parking committee meeting.
City Engineer Charlie O’Donnell explored the idea of converting Third Street to a one-way road from Market Street to Savannah Road. It would create a loop with Second Street, which is one-way in the opposite direction. A one-way street would allow the city to change one side of the street from parallel parking to angled spaces. The net gain would be abut 13 parking spaces, O’Donnell said.
The downside of the plan, he said, would be that the intersection of Third Street and Savannah Road would likely have to be changed to a right-turn only because angled parking would be on the Second Street side of Third. Members of the committee worried that sending visitors away from Second Street may result in confusion and they may just leave town.
Lewes Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Betsy Reamer said she and representatives from the Delaware River and Bay Authority have written to the Department of Transportation urging the agency to reconsider sending a bus down Second Street. DelDOT amended its routes prior to last summer. The nearest stops to downtown are at the Zwaanendael Museum inbound and Beebe Healthcare outbound. There is a flag stop available near The Buttery restaurant if traffic allows.
The committee made no decisions at its Jan. 28 meeting, and will continue its work in February. Resident Tom Deemedio said the city needs to take action soon or downtown businesses will continue to lose customers. He urged the city to keep pressuring M&T Bank to sell their lot to allow the city to build a parking garage.
“Even if it’s a five-year project, going on record saying you’re doing it will change perception,” he said. “It goes way beyond the impact on a couple of months a year. It’s year round. It takes the question out of peoples’ minds at 5 in the afternoon if they want to come down here for dinner and drive around for an hour looking for a parking space. A garage gives the perception that there’s a place to park, and you don’t have to be concerned.”
DiSabatino agreed that perception is the biggest hurdle to overcome.
“Even though we’re working on a solution and adding more spots, we’ve got to change perception,” he said.