Lewes has suspended requests for dedicated on-street parking until May 2023.
Councilwoman Candace Vessella recommended the city hold off on granting spaces until a comprehensive study of the parking situation in Lewes can be completed.
Vessella has been tasked with thoroughly examining not only the existing parking problems, but why current and past solutions have yet to produce long-term results.
During a July 28 workshop, mayor and city council discussed creating an inventory of residential properties that do not have off-street parking. The discussion was the impetus for the comprehensive study. Vessella said that since a March 14 decision by mayor and city council to begin allowing dedicated on-street parking, a number of Lewes Beach residents had come forward with requests.
The city received hundreds of comments at and leading up to a public hearing March 10 about beach parking. Officials did not have time to properly catalog the volume of information before their March 14 meeting, leading to the ambiguity. City Manager Ann Marie Townshend has said previously the data collected is still available, but won’t be reviewed until after the summer season. Vessella, who has until May 1 to present her findings, will be using that information, along with what previous parking committees have gathered. She said she does not want to repeat work that has already been done.
In addition to creating an inventory of homes without off-street parking, the study will create an inventory of parking spaces available in the city. There are metered and non-metered spaces on public streets and in public lots, but the exact number of spots is not known. City engineer George, Miles & Buhr provides parking information about a street before and after it begins a project, but GMB has not worked on every street in the city. Vessella said she will reach out to GMB during her research.
During the Lewes Beach parking study, GMB used drones to capture and map the parking situation. Vessella, whose background is in naval intelligence, said drone imagery is a useful tool, but has its limitations. Tree canopies, for instance, can block an area from view.
“This is going to take some time. My plan is to walk the streets of Lewes to verify these elements of information that will be collected from a myriad of sources so that we can look at it holistically,” Vessella said.
The study will look at the financial impact parking has on tourism and local businesses. A comprehensive analysis has yet to be done on whether the parking situation encourages or discourages visitors. According to Vessella, 50% of the city’s budget comes from revenues affected by outside forces, including 17% from parking meters and parking tickets. She believes a policy eliminating parking spots would reduce revenue and create a domino effect, forcing mayor and city council to raise taxes to cover the costs of city services. Removing public parking could also limit the number of spaces available to business patrons needing to drive into Lewes.
Vessella also noted the cost associated with maintenance. Lines would be needed if new parking spots are created, signage would need to be posted, and there would be clerical costs associated with the dedicated parking application process. Parking enforcement needs might increase if the scope of regulations is broadened.
Many Lewes residents have asked city officials about creating a parking permit system. Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach all have permit systems in place. Rehoboth Beach, for example, allows visitors to purchase a pass for as long as a summer season or as short as a weekend. Vessella said Lewes would struggle to implement a parking permit system because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires public access to any beach on which it does a nourishment project. Vessella believes a permit system, by its nature, would restrict access to the beach, and Lewes cannot afford to replenish its beaches independently.
In addition to GMB, Vessella said she will also reach out to the Delaware Department of Transportation, residents and city officials to gain a thorough understanding of the parking inventory, right-of-way intrusions and economic impact. She would like to have her study completed by April 30, and believes she has enough time to gather all pertinent information previously collected and combine it with current surveys.