Drilling for downtown parking meters began on Wednesday. But the internet complaints began about 24 hours earlier.
“Everyone has an opinion on social media,” said Mayor Sam Norton. “But I think that it’s great people are passionate about our town.”
From the sound of things, passions were running high on local Facebook pages when it was announced that the city would be installing 13 parking meters at specific locations on West Main Street and Maple Street.
It wasn’t as though Norton and fellow city representatives were surprised by the reaction.
“It’s not a popular topic,” said Norton. “But it’s necessary. [The parking issue is] not getting better. It’s not going to fix itself.”
This, said City Manager Bill Schmid, could be one of the solutions.
“The parking problem in downtown requires careful attention, particularly as Dahlonega and the rest of north Georgia continue to grow over time,” he said. “The current economic environment is a good opportunity to evaluate suitability of a variety of parking management methods.”
When contacted by The Nugget most members of the city council were quick to point out that this addition doesn’t mean parking meters are about to spring up at every downtown spot.
“We have about 400 parking spots,” said council member Roman Gaddis. “There has never been a discussion of taking those 400 and converting them to paid. That’s never occurred.”
What was discussed, at a June work session, was the adoption of a parking meter pilot program that is budgeted to cost approximately $14,000.
“We chose new meters that included a credit card [payment[ option,” said Schmid. “They cost roughly $800 [per meter].”
The newly installed meters will charge $1 per hour for parking on Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Council member JoAnne Taylor said the program is “only one of the options” they are looking at to deal with the ever-growing crowds on the square.
“We need to be able to address several needs,” she said. “Merchants who want turnover of parking in front of their businesses; employers and employees who want to park close to their businesses; tourists who want all day parking. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to these needs.”
Council member Johnny Ariemma doesn’t seem to think the program fits at all for downtown Dahlonega. And he was quick to note that he was not on the council when the meters were approved.
“This so called pilot program may not provide much info,” he said. “As many may just avoid them and park in the free lots.”
PARKING DECK PREDICTIONS
When The Nugget asked if the success of the pilot program would result in more meters, Norton acknowledged that is a possibility.
“I guess that would be one way to look at it,” he said. “There’s different tools to help manage parking. One is restricted parking, one is timed parking.”
Norton added that the idea for three-hour parking was criticized when it was introduced, but has since been embraced as a sensible answer.
“Whenever we did the three hour parking you would have thought that we were bringing the square down,” he said. “But now those same people are insistent we just keep the three hour parking, because it works.”
Norton said that the pilot program could help pave the way for that often talked about solution to the parking problem: a downtown parking deck.
Currently the city is eyeing a Choice Street plot with the aim of one day constructing just such a structure.
That, said Norton, could finally bring an end to the parking policy debate.
“If we could build a parking deck, and it’s a 400 unit parking deck, well what would we talk about then?” he said with a laugh.