Town board members fear that with free permits, merchant parking is out of control
Supervisor asks merchants themselves to suggest solutions
With 17 comments since publication
June 22, 2012
by Christine Yeres
From June 2005 to June 2011, each year the town charged merchants $150 per merchant parking space in downtown Chappaqua. In 2005, merchants paid for a total of 202 spots, in 2010 for 176. But when the town decided to drop the fee entirely in 2011-12 and allow each merchant to take up to seven free permits, that number ballooned to 368, reported the town’s Receiver of Taxes, Jill Shapiro, who administers the commuter parking program. And with a total of 450 parking spots in the downtown, that’s a problem, she told board members last Tuesday.
The 450 downtown Chappaqua parking spaces, mainly two-hour customer-or-merchant spots, are located 1) in South Greeley’s new lot, 2) on Allen Place behind the Village Market, 3) right behind Citibank, 4) in the lot across from Susan Lawrence, and 5) in on-street parking—the only place merchants are not allowed to use their parking permits.
“So how do we allocate permits to merchants?” Town Supervisor Susan Carpenter asked Shapiro.
“At this point,” said Shapiro, “we’ve been giving seven free permits to each of them. Not all take seven, but I’ve had requests from some for more than seven.” And although merchants have more spaces now than ever, “Every day I have merchants call me to tell me they have no place to park and they’re getting tickets and what am I going to do about it,” said Shapiro.
To board member Robin Stout’s question, “Why did we drop the fee?” Town Administrator Penny Paderewski responded that, at the time, the town was making improvements to the South Greeley lot and bridge construction had taken some parking spaces out of play. Stout added, “And we wanted the easements [from landlords, to create the South Greeley parking lot]?”
Reached later in the week, Erik Nikolaysen, a landlord and merchant in town, said he believed that the town offered the merchant parking permits free as a sort of trade-off at the time the new South Greeley parking district was formed, for which each of the landlords pays additional taxes each year. [Shapiro has not confirmed that such an arrangement took place intentionally.]
Something has to give
“Well,” observed Carpenter, “obviously, we can’t do seven per merchant.”
Board member Jason Chapin: “Certainly there are a number who don’t need or use seven permits.”
Shapiro: “Yes, and not all have taken seven.”
Board member John Buckley: “When it’s free, who wouldn’t want seven?”
Chapin: “Perhaps we should have a tiered system: the first three spaces at one price, the second three at another?”
Town board members discussed strategies that might move merchants out of lots where customers can park, to free those spaces for customers, but the problem is: Where else can merchants park?
Carpenter: “Can we have them park at the train station?”
Shapiro: “We don’t have the space.”
Carpenter: “Can we change the 70 non-resident spaces to merchant parking?”
Increase the number of parking spaces
“It’s like a balloon,” said Chapin. “Move them to a different spot and it bulges in another area. So the question is ‘Where can we add more spaces?’ And it doesn’t make sense to have only customer parking in the South Greeley lot, but a mix of customer and merchant.”
Chapin noted that people who live in Hardscrabble Lake attend Chappaqua schools but are located in the Town of Mt. Pleasant. They would qualify to enter a lottery for the roughly 70 non-resident commuter parking permits Shapiro makes available each year, but would have to pay the non-resident fee of $850 for a commuter parking permit, double what residents of New Castle pay.
Consequently, rather than purchase a pass, Chapin said, some residents of Hardscrabble Lake come to take the train at Chappaqua and hunt for spots that require no permit, adding to the demand on merchant and customer parking.
Realigning and repainting lines to squeeze out more spaces at the train station commuter lot has been done, said Chapin. There’s no more low-hanging fruit.
Buckley: “Can we charge merchants? If the spaces cost something versus being free…”
Stout agreed. “We want to be good to merchants,” he said, “but charging a fee is a way to regulate the parking they take.”
Elise Mottel suggested speaking to RiteAid about leasing some of its parking lot for merchant parking. “And the spaces behind Susan Lawrence?” added Stout. “That’s privately owned,” Paderewski responded.
Shapiro told board members she was seeking some direction from them. She’s been telling merchants who ask for more than seven spaces No.
“Clearly, we’re underpricing the merchant parking spaces,” said Stout. “I’m not opposed to raising the price.” He asked Shapiro, “When you were selling them for $150, did anyone get seven of them?”
“Yes,” responded Shapiro, “for the Chappaqua Village Market and Family Britches. And now that they’re free we’ve opened the floodgates, so to speak.”
Adding to the pressure on customer-merchant parking are commuters who, several board members reported, slip in to these lots and remain for the day. Such commuters sometimes calculate that they would rather pay a $20 violation ticket than purchase a commuter or meter permit.
Asked by email later in the week whether police actively chalk tires and issue tickets to vehicles of commuters who overstay the two-hour limit in the customer-merchant lots, or the six-hour limit on the spaces in front of the Chappaqua Library, Shapiro responded “Yes.”
Carpenter returned to the fact that merchants hold 368 passes in a downtown that has 450 customer-and-merchant spots—too many for merchants, too few for customers. “Merchants have to understand that If they’re going to abuse the merchant parking system, they’re hurting all the other merchants in town because there’s nowhere for customers to park. To be able to function we have to keep customer parking viable. If we don’t have parking, our shops can’t function.”
“Charge for the merchant spaces,” board member John Buckley suggested.
“Charge and look for more spaces,” said board member and Deputy Supervisor Elise Mottel.
“The merchant parking doesn’t have to be married to the commuter parking system,” Shapiro explained. “We can renew or terminate merchant parking permits at any time, or choose another time [than June-to-June to process them]. She asked board members what they wanted her to do to.
Where to go from here?
Carpenter concluded by suggesting that Shapiro and board members consult the merchants themselves and their newly-formed Chamber of Commerce. “We’ll have to say to merchants, ‘Look, you’ve each been getting as many as seven permits. That adds up to this many permits . There are this many total spaces . You all have customers. What are your suggestions? Do you really want merchant parking to take over the parking lots so you have no room for customers?’ “