More parking changes proposed in Bethany

Among a handful of parking ordinance and fee changes considered at a Feb. 13 meeting of Bethany Beach’s Traffic and Parking Committee, Town Manager Cliff Graviet proposed more uniform hours for the town’s parking meters and permits, aiming for ease in a future in which the town’s parking meter system might be automated.

Under the proposal, the existing meters with five-hour limits would be converted to having eight-hour limits. And, in the biggest change, all meters in the town would have their metering hours changed to 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. (It was previously 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in some metered areas.)

Hours in which a residential permit is required for certain locations east of Route 1 would also change, to the new hours of 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., to align with the new meter hours. Currently, Hollywood, Central and Campbell are restricted to permit parking between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., while the remainder of the town’s eastern east-west streets are now restricted between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Graviet explained that the town currently has five different parking districts, with varying requirements for permit hours, metered hours, meter period and such. That’s down from seven in recent years, but it’s still more than the single east-side district he’d prefer to have in the future.

The future of metered parking in the town could include a central parking system that would allow paying at a central location, with a credit card option, and permit the user to park at any meter in the town throughout the paid period — even if they needed to move their vehicle at some point. But that system really only works smoothly if there is one metered zone with uniform hours.

It’s a simple enough idea, but it was controversial among committee members. Council and Committee member Wayne Fuller said expanding the permit requirements beyond 4 p.m. would pose problems for those who had more than two or three guests with cars between that time and the 11 p.m. endpoint of the new proposal, such as a small dinner party.

Jean Wode agreed, saying she already had a hard time finding parking for her family and that the extended period wouldn’t be at all needed under the lesser parking demands outside the summer season. She was also concerned about the potential impact on businesses, such as restaurants, that might count on permit areas to be open to free parking after 4 p.m. or 8 p.m.

Graviet emphasized that the intention of the change was to make it a positive thing for residents, by helping to preserve their permit-required parking into hours where non-residents might normally take any open spaces — particularly for busy summer nights, such as those when bandstand entertainment is offered.

Resident Jane Fowler proposed a compromise, narrowing the five-zone system to just two, with differing parking hours – such as a Garfield Parkway-area zone with permits required until 8 p.m. and a second zone farther from the downtown area with an earlier ending for the permit requirement.

Those living within the lengthier permit-requiring period could still get a special-event permit to allow a larger group of guests to park, it was pointed out.

But Fuller, Wode and Mayor Jack Walsh remained concerned that the change would cause more problems for residents than it would solve for them or the town. Vice-Mayor Carol Olmstead said she found the whole thing very restrictive and didn’t want the town to move toward prohibiting non-residents from parking on the east side.

“I don’t want it so exclusive that people can’t come in,” she said, allowing that the parking situation could still favor residents, but concerned that the situation of already limited parking on bandstand nights would just get worse.

Graviet emphasized that the change would likely push non-residents to park at meters and in peripheral areas on the east side of the town, but it wouldn’t prohibit them from parking on the east side.

The committee members were unable to reach a consensus on the idea, agreeing to table the matter until their next meeting to brainstorm on variations or other options that might prove more acceptable to all.

Public Safety Officer Ralph Mitchell noted there was a time limit for considering new parking regulations for the coming summer season, with permits soon to be ordered. Graviet emphasized that rather than put something unfinished in place, major changes could wait until next year.

Also at the Feb. 13 meeting, committee members considered a number of parking fee increases. Council member and committee Chairman Jerry Dorfman said the increases were targeted at helping the town cover its costs for parking, which have been on the rise.

Among the items favored by the committee:

• Increases in the cost of residential permits, retaining the first one at no cost, but up from $20 to $25 for the second and from $30 to $50 for the third.

Committee member Lonny Moore vehemently recommended elimination of the third permit, and concern was expressed about long-rumored (but unproven) widespread abuse of residents giving or selling extra permits to those residing outside the town. But Moore received no support for the idea from other committee members, some of whom said their large families often required a third permit;

• Elimination of the platinum permit, of which only three were sold in 2005, at a cost of $500 and allowing parking at any space in the town;

• An increase to $350 from $250 for gold-level permits, allowing parking anywhere except Garfield Parkway or the bank parking lot; the changes also restrict the gold-permit area to areas outside the commercial district’s two-hour-meter zone and restrict gold permits to business owners;

• Increases in daily, three-day and weekly permit fees, from $7, $20 and $47, respectively, to $9, $27 and $60; many of these permits are sold to Sea Colony owners or visitors who were unable to get enough parking there, according to committee member Judge Sally Byrne; Graviet noted these permits were primarily a convenience and were often used just a few hours a day – a situation that would be improved by the proposed automated parking system, he said;

• Increases in construction permits, from $7 to $9;

• Increases in business permits — primarily for workers — from $20 to $25 — allowing employees to park in the 200 block of most of the town; and

• Increases for replacement permits for residents, up from $30 to $50, with the notation that anyone not having already been issued their second residential permit should be encouraged to buy that, at $25, versus the $50 replacement.

Committee members also followed up on their recommendation of last month to end free parking with a handicapped tag or placard as a way to deter abuse of handicapped spots by those not truly handicapped.

The debate on the issue was renewed, with resident Dowell Anders vehemently defending what he said was a longstanding privilege extended to the handicapped by the town. He favored stronger enforcement as an alternative disincentive to abusers, but town officials said enforcement was complicated by the number of out-of-state handicapped tags and placards and by the need for observing officers to remain with suspected abusers’ cars until they returned — sometimes many hours later.

The recommendation to eliminate the free parking stood, especially once the committee decided to recommend the town provide an additional 12 handicapped parking spaces in the town’s metered areas and 12 more in permit areas — a total of 24 new handicapped spaces, if approved by the town council (set for a likely March presentation). That would double the existing number of such spaces.

Town officials were to make recommendations to the committee as to the locations of the proposed new spaces, targeted at providing convenience access to areas such as the boardwalk/beach access ramps at Wellington Parkway and Ocean View Parkway (to be moved from Third Street with the planned beach reconstruction).

The handicapped spaces are all to have eight-hour-limit meters installed, to minimize the need for the handicapped to return and feed the meters with coins, and to be clearly marked for optimum visibility of their designations.