Somerville Merchants Endorse Plan to Reduce Parking Lot Fees

Somerville Mayor Ellen Brain speaks with Jeremy Solomon, borough attorney, at a meeting earlier this month. Credits: Rod Hirsch

SOMERVILLE, NJ – The Borough’s controversial parking fees are set to undergo another revision, with hourly parking reduced from 75 to 50 cents in municipal lots 1,2,4 and 6, according to a merchant-driven plan endorsed by Mayor Ellen Brain.

The $1 hourly rate for parking on Main Street will remain the same, according to the mayor.

The hours of enforcement will also be changed to 9 a.m.-7 p.m. in the lots and on the streets. Parking on Sunday will continue to be free, Brain said.

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Merchants have complained that the parking fees are bad for business.

Brain, a Republican, was appointed by the 6 Democratic members of the Borough Council to a temporary term of nine months in January; she listed parking as one of her top priorities, announcing the creation of an ad hoc committee earlier this month that includes members of merchant groups and downtown property owners.

Councilwoman Jane Kobuta, liason to the committee, reported that representatives of the Downtown Somerville Alliance and Business Owner on Main had met and agreed on the tentative plan.

“It was a constructive meeting, everyone was moving toward the same goal,” Brain said. “It’s wonderful to see the level of cooperation and commitment to Somerville,” she added. “How do we keep Somerville a place that is welcoming to our guests - you do it by making parking something they don’t have to worry about.”

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. BOOM is strictly a merchants’ group and has no binding authority on borough matters.

The full membership of both organizations will now discuss the proposal; if both approve, the Borough Council will then move to act on final approval, according to Brain.

“We are very hopeful this is going to provide a sense of support to these merchants as well as an opportunity to level the playing field in all of the municipal lots and make it less cumbersome for people to figure out our parking,” the mayor said.

The merchants’ groups also asked that signage on the parking lot kiosks be enlarged for the ease of those using the lots.

She expects the proposal to be approved and in place by June 1.

The tentative agreement also ensures that the borough will lift all parking fees in the lots during the holiday season that extends from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day; fees on the Main Street meters will remain in effect during the holiday season, according to Brain.

The tentative plan will also accommodate owners of the vintage and classic cars that line Main Street on Friday nights from Memorial Day to Labor Day, a Somerville tradition that draws thousands of car owners and visitors to the borough. Main Street parking fees for owners of the cars on display will be suspended after 5 p.m. but those who come early to park will have to pay, according to Brain.

The Borough introduced new parking fees and regulations in late 2016, the first time it had done so in 30 years, according to former Mayor Brian Gallagher, who resigned his position in January after his election to the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Four months later, in February, 2017, the new regulations were tweaked for the first time, with the council voting to extend time limits on the Main Street meters from two to three hours, and eliminating time limits in the municipal lots.

Gallagher said at that time the borough would continue to weigh changes as part of the process, which included a Feb. 13 meeting of the Downtown Somerville Parking Task Force to solicit public input.

“We will continue to identify issues and talk about other adjustments that may or may not be made,” Gallagher said. “We want to continue this dialogue.”

His successor has chosen to do so, and expects that the results of the meeting with the DSA and BOOM representatives may lead to a longer term solution.

“The hope is that more people will come and use the lots,” Brain said.

There are 1,100 parking meters and pay stations in the borough, according to Kevin Sluka, borough clerk.

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