Finding parking in Lewes’ busy downtown business district is often like finding a needle in a haystack. For residents of the nonmetered streets, it’s possibly even more difficult to find an open space near their home.
Several residents told the city’s business district parking committee Aug. 20 that parking is scarce because of the people who work at various downtown businesses. Because they are unable to park in the metered areas – which have three-hour limits – they search for an open space in residential neighborhoods, then park there for eight or more hours. The recent popularity of AirBnB and VRBO has also attracted more people to homes, resulting in more vehicles on the street, residents say.
“The tourists come in, and they typically spend maybe three hours here,” said Market Street resident Diana Reardon. “It’s the workers who come in … and they take a space for eight hours. Do I blame them? No, because that’s their public right.”
But she and other residents are asking the city to do something about it. Nearly all residents at the committee’s Aug. 20 meeting supported a permit system.
“This is the only [town] in this resort area that does not have some kind of permit to protect residents,” Reardon said. “I recommend a pilot. Let’s try it in a geographic area that’s wide enough that prevents people from parking. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.”
Market Street resident Wayne Ehler said the city tried to implement a parking permit program in the 1990s, but it failed in just two days.
Mayor Ted Becker said it was poorly planned.
“There wasn’t enough time for people to understand it,” he said. “There wasn’t an opportunity for visitor permits. It really wasn’t refined.”
Betsy Reamer, executive director of the Lewes Chamber of Commerce, added that it was poorly publicized and most residents never even had an opportunity to get a pass before it was abandoned.
The issue with downtown workers taking spaces is nothing new, Reamer said, as the chamber has tried for years to encourage parking elsewhere, including the Lewes Presbyterian Church lot on Kings Highway and the stone parking lot on Schley Avenue.
“Every year we put out a map and show the workers where we’d like them to park, but it’s voluntary,” she said. “It’s clear asking people to voluntarily park in the Presbyterian church parking lot is not working.”
Mulberry Street resident Georgia Tugend said the issues are compounded by the conversion of homes from owner-occupied to weekly rentals.
“We have seen an incredible flip,” she said “What were single-family homes now advertise for eight to 12 adults. It’s something to sit on a Saturday afternoon when the rental contracts turn over and for us to see an almost reverse clown car … five, six, seven SUVs/minivans pulling up.”
Committee member Nancy Staisey said she spoke extensively with her neighbors, and it was clear most residents of Mulberry and Market streets are in favor of parking permits.
“They’re sandwiched between the commercial portion of Second Street and the hospital, so there are pressures from two directions,” she said.
Although residents may be overwhelmingly in favor of permits, finding a system that satisfies all may be difficult, she said.
“It’s the details that really become important,” she said.
Becker added that the city also has to be careful not to push the problem to another neighborhood.
City Manager Ann Marie Townshend presented the committee with information regarding parking permits in Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach. Each town has a unique system that addresses the pressures of parking in their town.
The committee also discussed the approach to parking in Key West, Fla., where residents are given a permit to park in designated areas.
Several residents said they would support a program that allows visitors to park for up to three hours, so as to not deter people from visiting the town’s businesses.