What's next for York City parking?
Often people call Otto's Kitchen and Cocktails, asking about where they can park to come to the restaurant around the middle of York City.
"I tell them, 'Unfortunately, parking is an issue,'" said Sarah Lyon, a manager at the restaurant. "It sucks."
Otto's, at 19 N. George St., is just one of the several restaurants and other businesses to open up recently right around the middle of town, with several more in the works. With the downtown area adding people and places, a parking system officials say already is perceived by residents to be lacking is only going to become more stressed in coming years.
The city's General Authority has brought in consultants to assess the parking situation around York. Members of Desman Design Management have begun talking to locals and charting parking usage, and ultimately will make recommendations by the fall.
The General Authority owns and operates the city's public parking garages, meters and lots. Its board members are appointed by York Mayor Kim Bracey and then confirmed by council, but that's the only direct power the city government has over the authority.
Pam Zerba, the chair of the General Authority, said her organization was paying Desman around $85,000 for the company's services. In the five years she's been on the authority's board, this is the first time it's hired someone from outside the organization to help take stock of the authority's finances, operations and facilities.
She said the authority is trying to see if the current facilities adequately serve the city now and will continue do do so in the future. It's also trying to figure out if there are any ways the organization can improve itself.
"The perception is there’s not lots of parking" in York City, Zerba told The York Dispatch on Tuesday.
Perception: That perception was on display, coincidentally, at the city council meeting that evening. During the public comment section, city resident Leo Lunger complained about a broken-down car that's been sitting on his block for more than a month.
"So our block is down a parking spot," he said to council. "All of you who live in the city know parking spaces are at a premium."
Greg Shumatt, the Cleveland-based Desman senior associate assigned to the York City consulting project, said he and others from the firm spent Thursday and Friday in York City, interviewing people around the city and charting usage of the various parking facilities at different times of the day, staying later Friday night to see what the First Friday parking situation was like.
They're now "crunching the numbers" they came back with and in about a month will return to York City present to city officials about the current state of the city's parking system. Then they'll spend another month or month and a half working on a presentation about how that's likely to change in the near future.
He said a couple of areas already showed room for improvement.
"Signage is a big issue," he said. For example, there's nowhere that clearly states the metered areas around downtown are two-hour parking, which they are, he said.
Rates: And there's the rates of the meters compared to the garages. The meters cost $1 an hour, while the garages are $2.50. That's unusual, Shumatt said; he said garages usually cost less than meters, to try to get people to use the garages more if they're going to be parked for more than a brief stop. In York, he said, it seems the metered spots are often all filled up, while there's room in the garages.
Early last year — when the prices of the garages were different, not a flat hourly rate — Zerba brought similar thoughts to York City Council. She proposed raising the meters to $1.50 an hour, while regulating the parking garage rate. Council, which would have to approve a rate hike on the meters, wasn't keen on the idea, so Zerba ultimately dropped it for the time being, though the authority did make the charges it wanted in the garage pricing, as is its prerogative.
Meters and garages alike are free at night.
Zerba said on Tuesday that exchange with council made her realize the authority needed to spend more resources to have broader, more concrete evidence before it would move forward with other major changes.
"That experience made us think about hiring a consultant," she said. So they did so, eventually bringing on Desman last month.
Zerba said the authority brings in about $1.8 million a year in revenue and spends about $1.6 million annually. Those numbers are from 2014, said, adding that those were the most recent ones she had quickly on hand, but said that's a pretty normal breakdown.
"So we have the money" to move on recommendations Desman might make, she said.