Discussion for paid parking on the Square gets heated

At last week’s agenda session, aldermen asked city parking staff to consider adding the Fayetteville Square in with the proposed parking plan for the Entertainment District. Changing the downtown area to paid parking would “make it equitable,” Council member Brenda Thiel said.

With that directive, Transportation Director Terry Gulley said he knew pursuing the topic of treating the Square’s parking the same as Dickson Street’s would be controversial. And, sure enough, on Monday night, about 25 people gathered for public input session that turned out to be, at times, a raucous discussion.

Gulley opened the meeting by saying city staff recognized the distinctions between the Entertainment District and the Fayetteville Square and he reiterated that a plan has not been proposed. The input session was just to gather feedback from the public so that staff could return to the City Council with a recommendation, Gulley said.

“We had to ask,” he said.

The parking on the Square is the best it has been in a long time, said Liz Fulton, who owns Town & Country Shop, a clothing store on the Square.

Alderman Bobby Ferrell, who was seated with the public, asked those in attendance if they would prefer parking on the Square to stay the same. The majority of the room raised their hands in favor of the status quo.

In the past, city parking officials have tried to combat the problem of employees taking up prime parking spaces on the Square, instead of saving them for customers. That’s why the city enacted a two-hour limit for those spots. But, Sharon Crosson, the parking and telecommunications manager, said the time limit suggests to visitors that, “Fayetteville only wants them here for two hours.”

Dede Peters, who has an art gallery on Mountain Street, said that a solution for that problem should come from business owners, not the city. “We are taking away from our own business” when owners and employees fill those spaces, Peters said.

Rates for parking meters around the Square have not been adjusted since 1996, and that income does not support the staff required to patrol the area, Crosson said. So, a rate increase might be in the future.

The paid parking plan for the Entertainment District, excluding the downtown area, is scheduled to go before the City Council on May 4. Those ordinances associated with changing Dickson Street parking will hear a full three readings at council meetings, so the public has ample opportunity to speak.

Mary Robbins is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She declared Fayetteville as her hometown upon moving here for college. She is a Journalism graduate who enjoys live music, the outdoors and attending city council meetings. For more of Mary’s contributions, visit her author page.