SOMERVILLE, NJ - With Black Friday looming less than two weeks away, downtown Somerville merchants are hoping to give shoppers an early Christmas present while helping to increase their business with free parking.
The Borough Council will likely pass a resolution at its meeting next Monday night to shut down metered parking in borough-owned parking lots during the holiday season, according to Mayor Brian Gallagher.
The free parking will go into effect with the traditional day-after Thanksgiving start of the retail season, through New Year’s Day, according to the mayor.
The council will discuss which of the borough’s seven public lots will be covered before passing the resolution, Gallagher said.
Free parking during the holiday is a tradition in Somerville, designed to attract shoppers and visitors to the downtown area and increase retail traffic in the stores along Main Street, the Division Street pedestrian mall and other side streets lined with restaurants and shops.
There are 1,100 parking meters and pay stations in the borough, according to Kevin Sluka, borough clerk.
Last year, however, the borough limited free parking in the metered lots to Saturdays only; there is no charge for parking in the lots on Sundays.
Increased parking fees instituted late last year have been a contentious issue with merchants, some of whom have organized an upstart business association, Business Owners on Main, in an effort to modify or eliminate metered parking as one of its objectives.
BOOM met Oct. 26, and again Monday night, with store owners and restaurant owners continuing to voice their frustration and disdain for the higher parking fees on Main Street and the borough parking lots, complaining that the higher rates have impacted their businesses.
On Tuesday, a few members of BOOM attended the monthly meeting of the Downtown Somerville Alliance, where the conversation continued.
The DSA is empowered by the Borough Council to advocate for business and property owners and to market and promote the downtown, as well as impose a tax on Main Street property owners within the designated Special Improvement District to fund its efforts.
Borough Council member Jane Kobuta, who acts as liason and is a member of the DSA, along with Beth Anne Macdonald, executive director of the DSA, met after the DSA meeting with Sluka to ensure the topic of parking would be added to the agenda for Monday night’s meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. at Police Headquarters, 24 South Bridge St.
BOOM members had also complained about a discrepancy between signs on the meters advising a two-hour time limit, when in fact, the meters are calibrated for a three-hour maximum.
Kobuta relayed that information to Sluka, who promised to remedy the problem quickly, she said.
“We went right over there and had a great meeting with Kevin,” Kobuta said. “He said he will fix the signs as soon as possible to make the change from two to three hours; hopefully that will get done within short period of time.
“We’re aware of the merchants’ unhappiness about the parking and we will try to help them out with the free parking during the holiday season,” Kobuta added. "I really don’t think any of them (fellow council members) will have any objections.”
The revised parking regulations, first adopted late last year and revised earlier this year, extend the time limits placed on Main Street parking meters from two to three hours, and eliminate time restrictions from off-street parking meters in municipal parking lots 1,2,4,6 and 7.
The borough maintains seven parking lots; Parking lots 1 and 2, behind the Main Street shopping district stretching from Maple Street on the east to North Doughty Avenue on the west, includes 300 spaces, according to Sluka. Lot 7, located on E. High Street between North Bridge Street and Grove Street has 170 spaces.
Lots 3, 4 and 5 on the east side of the borough are much smaller. Lot 6 is primarily used for jurors who drive in from outside Somerville.
The revisions adopted earlier this year include:
· Enforcement times Monday-Saturday that begin at 9 a.m. were extended three hours, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., meaning there will fewer hours to park for free;
· The new enforcement times in Parking Lots 1, 2, 4 and 6 are Monday through Saturday 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Hourly rates increased from 25 to 75 cents an hour for Lots 1,2 and 6;
· The rates for Lot 7 increased from 25 cents to 50 cents per hour. Sluka said efforts are being made to encourage merchants, employees and others who spend their day in Somerville to park in Lot 7, which will add up to significant savings over a month’s time. Enforcement times in Lot 7 are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m-8 p.m.;
· The hourly rate for Lot 4 was increased to $1 per hour with a maximum parking time of 2 hours.
The 12-minute, limited-time penny meters in the vicinity of the Post Office on Division Street have been left untouched.