Friday, November 28–Parking Limits Planned To Help Downtown Stores

BERLIN – Until a new two-hour limit on parking in downtown Berlin becomes official Dec. 8., the town is asking residents to voluntarily observe the new restriction to encourage holiday shopping at downtown merchants.

The two-hour limit will be imposed on Main Street and some side streets from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. to offer more convenient-to-shopping parking spaces and to promote turnover among visitors. Side streets discussed include the first block off Main Street of Jefferson, Broad and Commerce streets. The limit should free up about 33 downtown parking spaces.

Downtown merchants have complained that residents and employees of downtown businesses monopolize on-street parking downtown, leaving no room for customers to park.

The new limit would also encourage turnover among customers, Town Center Antiques owner Bill Outten said, by opening up parking spaces throughout the day to new shoppers.

Outten said at Monday night’s Berlin Mayor and Council meeting that proponents of the two-hour limit are not attempting to raise revenues through parking citations, they are simply trying to ensure that parking spaces on downtown Main Street are used to the best advantage.

Outten seemed particularly concerned about residents of the area who occupy apartments above retail shops.

“Some of them are the most flagrant violators, sitting out there for days and days and not moving,” Outten said.

Since he and fellow merchant Gail Lewis brought the matter before the council in early November, press reports have inspired people to move their cars from the downtown streets, he said.

As asked at the Nov. 10 town council meeting, Lewis and Outten brought in parking sign designs Monday night that fit in with Berlin’s historical character. Council members said earlier this month that they were concerned about the look of the standard metal signs on metal poles.

The merchants offered a narrow, rectangular wooden design with scalloped corners in cream and burgundy, meant to he affixed to current light poles.

“They’re not too big or gaudy. They fit on the lampposts,” said Outten.

“This is great,” said Mayor Gee Williams.

The signs could be made locally, with 20 two-hour parking limit signs at $75 each, to be posted every two to three parking slots, and 10 signs directing motorists to public parking lots, costing $150 each. The total cost would be $3,000.

The cost of the signs could come out of the $12,000 Maryland Main Street grant awarded to Berlin earlier this year. The Berlin Main Street Program has $24,000 altogether with a mandatory $12,000 in matching funds.

According to Main Street coordinator Michael Day, plans call for $6,000 in funding to be set aside for wayfinding signs, directing people to points of interest in town. Those six to eight wayfinding signs should not be expensive, Day said, and could cost as little as $1,000 total.     

The Main Street Program does have other plans for the funding awarded, such as park benches and trashcans.

“The town of Berlin should bear the full cost,” Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing said.

Regulatory signs are the town’s responsibility, Downing said. The town does not want to use standard metal signs, Williams said.

Downing warned that the Maryland State Highway Administration  (SHA) would need to sign off on the additional parking signs, as Main Street is a state road, and SHA could have problems with the addition of parking signs. The visual noise of the signs could take away from State Highway’s own signs, Downing said.

“We would obviously call them first,” said Williams.

Some changes could be made in the town’s streets, Downing said, pending discussion with SHA, such as switching some streets to one way only. Any changes could affect the signs.

Williams said the town needed to spread the word about the new signs, including passage of a resolution and letters to landlords, businesses, and residents, before commissioning or hanging signs.

The town Main Street Program should have time to work out what contribution it can make for the signs, and the town could also decide where to get any other funds needed while the preliminary steps are accomplished.

The town council agreed to ask drivers to voluntarily observe a two-hour parking limit in downtown Berlin. Elected officials plan to consider a resolution making the change official at the Dec. 8 town council meeting.

“We want to maximize the spots we have,” said Williams.

“This is to help the downtown area,” said Outten. “It’ll help in the end all of us.”