Parking fines to rise in downtown Amherst starting Oct. 1

Staff Writer
Sunday, September 10, 2017

AMHERST — Parking fines for those who overstay their time at spaces in downtown Amherst will be going up Oct. 1.

The Select Board Aug. 30 unanimously agreed to increase parking tickets for meter violations from $10 to $15, the first adjustment in a decade.

The change was one of just two recommendations from the Downtown Parking Working Group enacted, with others put on hold until the committee completes more study.

The other recommendation approved will implement a snow emergency procedure during the winter months in which anyone can park on streets overnight, unless a snow emergency is declared.

Under current practice, vehicles are prohibited from parking on streets between 2 and 6 a.m. from Dec. 1 through April 1, with people directed to park in the lower level of the Boltwood Parking garage, on Pray Street and other select areas.

This change earned support from the business community.

“We appreciate that and moving on with that,” said Sarah la Cour, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District.

But creating a core area of downtown parking, where parking would cost $1 per hour rather than the current 50 cents per hour, extending enforcement from 6 to 8 p.m. and standardizing most meters to four-hour time limits, with the only eight-hour machines in the town-owned lot between North Pleasant and North Prospect streets, were all put off.

Select Board member Connie Kruger, who serves as chairwoman of the Downtown Parking Working Group, said these proposals will continue to be examined when the committee meets next week.

Kruger said the group is still seeking an exact count of spaces that would be in the core, and those spaces on the periphery.

The committee will also consider a new proposal pitched by the BID, which it is calling the “mini-core” that would be centered on the intersection of North Pleasant, South Pleasant, Amity and Main streets.

Under this concept, there would be one-hour parking at a handful of spaces, for a quicker turnover, with the rest remaining at four hours.

Barry Roberts, president of Amherst BID’s directors, said he has talked to businesses and stakeholders who support the idea, as long as tickets are regularly issued to violators.

“Enforcement will be important to make this work,” Roberts said.

Jerry Jolly, a member of the BID’s board and owner of The Pub restaurant, said he hopes that the mini-core idea is a reasonable effort to encourage turnover in front of storefronts. He said his preference would be more free spaces in downtown.

Select Board member Andy Steinberg wondered if the mini-core concept would be good for the restaurants and the Amherst Cinema.

“If you have one hour spaces up until 6 p.m., that would preclude someone from going to a late afternoon movie followed by dinner,” Steinberg said.

La Cour said the proposal is about striking a balance between those who come in for quick business in town, and those who intend to stay longer.

Brewer said an hour won’t be sufficient time for people to eat lunch or dinner. “I’m really concerned about this,” Brewer said.

Meanwhile, in anticipation of a hearing at its Sept. 11 meeting, the board discussed the issues with parking on Olympia Drive, caused mostly by the development of the Olympia Place dormitory.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring said tenants have seen the appeal of free parking, which has caused issues with buses, both from University of Massachusetts Transit and public school buses, that use the road.

“It is the great American dream to have free parking,” Mooring said.

Temporary signs prohibiting parking have reduced the problems.

“It’s gotten better, but we need to have some permanent ordinances, more permanent parking rules, in place,” Mooring said.

There are 300 parking spaces owned by UMass nearby. Tony Maroulis, director of external relations at UMass, said visitors can use the ParkMobile app offered by the university to temporarily pay for parking in those lots.

The Select Board will look at a plan to put meters at 33 parallel parking spaces. These meters will have to be purchased, Mooring said, with just seven that could be installed immediately.

Kruger said the inclination is to put in the meters, but wondered about enforcement in an area out of downtown. Mooring agrees that there will have to be changes to enforcement procedures.

Brewer wondered whether the Olympia Place developers were required to provide parking. At hearings for the project, the developers told town planners that UMass students living there would be eligible to purchase stickers and park in nearby lots, though no plans were unveiled for where visitors would park.