Parking Hearing Starts with Hot Tempers, Ends with Agreement

By Seth Daniel

The public hearing by the South End Forum’s Parking Task Force represented eight months of work and some two years worth of discussion, but it began last Tuesday, June 14, with a rowdy audience challenging the at-large neighborhood association about its ability to even engage in such a plan.

The Forum had put the Task Force together last summer, and lots of meetings internally eventually resulted in a public document being circulated last month regarding suggested changes to parking and signage and other such matters in the South End. Everything from visitor parking programs to year-round street sweeping was contemplated.

What apparently wasn’t contemplated was the large group of people who said they had never heard of the plan and were ready to butt heads with members of the Task Force, who are only volunteers.

One man began the meeting by screaming and yelling, garnering many applause, and then storming out of the room due to the fact that he didn’t believe the Forum was a legitimate body representing the people.

Others were also concerned that they weren’t notified of the proposed changes and that non-profits weren’t notified either.

“I know of a half-dozen non-profits that had not heard of this at all,” said Rhys Gardner.

Another resident, Jenny Gray, said she has lived in the South End all her life and had never heard of the Forum and certainly had not heard of the Task Force plans until she discovered it by chance online.

“I was upset,” she said. “I was very upset. I wrote how I felt and put in on my Facebook page. I want to understand better what is being proposed. One thing happening in our neighborhood is a huge growth in youth population. At St. Stephens there are a lot of youth programs going on for them. I would hate to see this thing about parking get in the way of this. There should be stuff in writing. No everyone has access to technology in order to get the e-mails. We should have some things in writing… Who is on this Task Force? How did they get to be on the Task Force? I don’t know the answers to any of that.”

That sort of breakdown in the matter at hand prompted members of the Forum Task Force back on their heels. They implored those in attendance to trust that this was a work in progress and could be talked out.

“At some point there has to be some trust here,” said Steve Fox, moderator of the Forum. “This is designed to be as inclusive as possible.”

After the basics were ironed out, the meeting got to the meat of the issue.

One of the key points came on the visitor parking program.

It is proposed to limit visitor parking passes and resident parking passes.

A report in the Boston Globe recently detailed someone in the South End that had up to 10 or more parking passes. It is common knowledge around the neighborhood that some abuse the system and just about everyone can point to such a scofflaw. To prevent it the Task Force has suggested annual renewals of parking passes and a fee.

The annual renewal and limits to passes were well received, but not so much the fee idea.

“I moved here in 1975 and I’ve been here awhile,” said Jack Gantos. “Since 2003, our taxes have gone up 130 percent. You can’t get a parking sticker out of a 130 percent tax increase over 13 years? We have two cars and pay $23,600 in taxes. Don’t insult the people who moved down here and invested in the neighborhood and built it up and worked with the community arm in arm over a nickel and dime issue. Let’s limit the passes and go after the scofflaws.”

Said Tiffany Eubanks, “I think the limiting of spots is a good start. Let’s try and see where it goes. That’s much better than a fee. Instead of going from zero to 60; let’s go zero to 30.”

Carol Blair, who is on the Task Force and is president of the Chester Square Neighborhood Association, advocated for the ability of those who don’t own cars to get parking passes – especially for the elderly who don’t drive but have visitors.

“I don’t own a car,” she said. “I have inferior rights to my neighborhood because I don’t have a car. I have no right to that curb space. I think that visitor parking has a lot of merit…I don’t need a space every day, but when my son comes from Connecticut, I’d like him to be able to park on the street. I wouldn’t even mind paying a little bit for that.”

One idea was to have every household get two permits, and they could choose if they want resident permits or visitor permits.

The annual renewal suggestion was universally agreed to at the meeting.

The idea to allow year-round street sweeping – which essentially activates the program in January and February – was agreed to as well. New equipment purchased by the City has allowed the City to remove snow in the winter rather than just plow it. The Task Force would like the South End to be the pilot program to test out that year-round sweeping/removal program.

Another piece of the parking puzzle were special programs for Union United and, now, St. Stephens Churches, for parking in the median on Sundays. A placard has been suggested for both to make sure those church communities are accommodated as congregants who have been priced out of the neighborhood return to worship.

A plan to make the South End a space-saver free zone during winter on a permanent basis was also met with approval. For the past three years, a pilot program has allowed the designation to continue on a yearly basis.

In conclusion, Fox pointed out that the population of the South End has grown by 13 percent over the last 10 years.

“That doesn’t even contain the new development that’s coming,” he said. “That’s just the normal South End. We need to be smart about anticipating our future in terms of parking.

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