Prescott council delays decision on downtown parking limits
Fearing that the current “two-hour parking shuffle” would simply turn into a “three-hour shuffle,” City Council members delayed a decision this week on whether to lengthen parking limits in downtown Prescott.
A change from the city’s long-standing two-hour parking on most downtown streets was on the council agenda Tuesday, June 11, but members ultimately opted to table the issue to allow for a more comprehensive look at downtown parking issues.
City Manager Michael Lamar said after the meeting that city staff would take a broader look at parking issues, such as the need to improve safety in the downtown parking garage, and report back to the council within about two to three months.
The move to change to a three-hour limit was a recommendation earlier this year from downtown-revitalization expert Ron Drake, who maintained that the two-hour limit sent a message to visitors of “Welcome to Prescott, but only stay two hours.”
Drake suggested a list of improvements that he said Prescott could make fairly easily, and the parking limit change was among the short-term steps.
But several council members raised concerns about the change, maintaining that a three-hour limit would merely encourage employees of downtown businesses to occupy the parking spaces for three hours, rather than the current two hours, and would not help shoppers and diners.
Councilman Steve Blair said he had long witnessed employees moving their vehicles every two hours to avoid getting a parking ticket. Currently, he said, employees of two major real estate firms downtown regularly occupy the parking spaces near their offices.
Councilman Phil Goode added that he also had noticed employees taking up choice parking spaces. He suggested that “Instead of the two-hour shuffle, are we going to have the three-hour shuffle?”
Others wondered whether enough study had gone into determining the impact to businesses of the three-hour parking limit. Councilwoman Alexa Scholl, for instance, said the switch to a three-hour limit seemed “arbitrary.”
Councilman Steve Sischka added, “I would feel more comfortable to come up with a comprehensive plan to deal with it all.”
Local resident Russ Pilcher added his concerns, noting that when he goes downtown, he is focused on a specific store and task.
“I’m finding that two hours is adequate to do the relatively focused shopping I do,” Pilcher said. “I’m afraid that three-hour parking is going to make it harder for me to find a spot when I come downtown.”
Even though the city’s downtown parking garage is often less than half-full, downtown employees reportedly do not see it as a viable option – especially during night-time shifts.
Scholl pointed out that she had worked in a downtown restaurant as a teenager, and was hesitant to park in the garage when her shifts ended at 10 or 11 p.m.
Lamar agreed that the city should work to improve the lighting and safety in the 500-space Granite Street garage.
Among Drake’s other suggestions was better utilization of the Whiskey Row alley, and Lamar said the city has been working with Whiskey Row merchants to encourage more activity in the alley, which he said would help improve safety in the adjacent parking garage.
Another step that Lamar said could help to give the city more parking data is the probable coming switch by the Prescott Police Department from manual chalking of the tires of cars parked downtown to “auto-chalk” — an automatic license-plate recognition system.
Police Chief Debora Black and Lt. Jason Small told the council the department is looking into the change — in part because of a recent federal court ruling that found chalking tires to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Black said the auto-chalk system would provide information, such as on how often specific vehicles park in the same downtown parking spaces. Such information likely will go into the city’s comprehensive review of parking issues, Lamar said.
The council voted unanimously to table the parking-limit change to allow for more study.