The College Park City Council voted 7-1 Tuesday night to decrease permit parking fees in the Lord Calvert Manor area after hiking rates by 3,600 percent in 2016.
The council held a public hearing before the vote on an ordinance to decrease the monthly permit-parking fee from $60 per month to $40 per month in the area, which surrounds Terrapin Row, the Graduate Gardens and other nearby properties. No residents spoke for or against the proposal.
The change is effective July 1, and will affect the 110 available spots in Zones 11 and 11A, as well as the 15 permits available along Knox Road and the 25 spots on Hartwick Road. The original rate for Zone 11/11A was $10 bi-annually for Zone 11 and $10 annually for Zone 11A, but the city changed these rates to $60 a month in July 2016, resulting in $720 annually charged to permit holders. The reduced fee is now $480 annually.
The price increase responded to the Terrapin Row development — which charges residents $125 a month for garage parking — as the city did not expect the development's designated parking to meet demand, according to the city agenda. It's estimated that 95 percent of the Zone 11/11A permits have been sold to Terrapin Row residents, the agenda stated.
The council discussed the permit fees during February and March work-sessions, and drafted this ordinance on March 28. During this week's meeting, council members debated the issue at length with one another, with several members expressing support for a motion from District 2 Councilman P.J. Brennan to decrease the permit price back to $10 bi-annually. The motion to amend the ordinance failed 3-2, with three abstentions.
"I personally am willing to go down to $10 a semester, but I did also want to raise one issue that we think about with parking … there simply is not enough space for everybody to have cars when you have high rise developments," said District 3 Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich, adding that "it's hard to find a solution that feels right."
Even with the decrease to $40 a month, residents of the Lord Calvert Manor neighborhood are paying 48 times more for parking than permit holders in all other residential areas of the city — excluding off-campus sororities and fraternities, which pay $10 bi-annually for permits within Zone 6 parking, said Jim Miller, the city's parking enforcement manager.
All other parking programs within residential areas of this city require permit-holders to pay $10 annually, Miller said.
Brennan iterated his concern Tuesday with the new rate, and said it's unfair to have residents of the Lord Calvert Manor neighborhoods pay more than other residents. He voted against Tuesday's ordinance, citing opposition to a tiered pricing structure.
"I continue to struggle with this one," Brennan said. "I think that the spaces that are available there will be filled up regardless of if they're $10, $40 or $60, and if our true interest here is reducing the parking on the street, then maybe we should create more yellow curbs."
Brennan had expressed similar hesitations during a March 21 council worksession, when he said the new rate was "going into uncharted territory here with this idea of policy that multifamily areas warrant or deserve a higher rate."
"I have mixed feelings about tonight's council vote," said Chris Keosian, the council's student liaison, on Tuesday. "On one hand I'm very appreciative of the council's thorough discussion on this issue … and I appreciate the ultimate compromise of the $40 fee. But I'm still disappointed because it's inherently unequal to the students living in [this] neighborhood … to pay more than students living in other neighborhoods."
Stullich had said during the March 21 work session that this particular area's density "makes [it] different than traditional neighborhoods."
"It's hard to think about equity because inevitably some people are not going to [get spots]," Stullich said. "We can't give out to permits out to everyone because there's a limited amount of spaces compared to the amount of people."
College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn noted during the March work session the expensive rate could "discourage" residents from bringing their cars to the city, which promotes this city's overall vision of increased walkability and less traffic.
Council members have been discussing the reduction in permit price since the new year, when City Manager Scott Somers noted that "it may not be appropriate or a standard practice to develop a tiered market driven fee structure for residential parking permits along public roads," according to a January 3 council agenda.
Although the new proposal still reflects a tiered system, Somers said Tuesday he thinks this ordinance is a "much better solution."
"It's a better alternative," he said. "It brings us a little bit more consistent, and hopefully it's not as much of a financial burden for those looking to park their vehicles."