The news that city has extended the paid hours for its parking lots has prompted comments from many residents and others who frequent Middletown for its shops, restaurants and other services.
The change also runs counter to efforts by at least two small business owners who have been trying to get the parking commission to offer parking amnesty on Saturdays in the arcade and Melilli parking lots.
In April, the common council looked at rate and time changes as part of its annual budget review process. They approved municipal lot parking fee times — increasing them from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — and retaining the first-hour-free rule effective Aug. 1, according to Middletown Parking Director Geen Thazhampallath.
"Although all aspects of paid parking were considered during the budget process, only the extension of paid parking hours in the city's lots were brought forward," according to Thazhampallath.
In February, Linda Bowers, owner of the Book Bower second-hand bookstore in Main Street Market, posted on her website that the parking commission agreed to request the change from Mayor Dan Drew and the common council. This week, Bowers said the mayor rejected the idea.
She, along with Pamela Steele, owner of Pamela Roose Specialty Hand Knits on Court Street, whose shop moved recently from Main Street Market, spoke publicly about how parking fees on Saturdays in Middletown lots near their businesses discourage customers from lingering in their shops and buying items because of the prohibitive cost of parking.
Bowers, whose shop is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., looks at the change with a wary eye.
"I cannot object to the extended hours for fee collection since the department is proposing to improve lighting and safety for evening parkers," she said. "I do not believe that the costs for that should be borne by daytime parkers who are my customers."
Steele says she's concerned the city may be placing the needs of restauranteurs downtown over those of retail shop owners.
"We, as retailers have been meeting with the Parking Commission for a year and a half to raise the gates in the two lots on Saturdays for free parking to no avail. When the city changed the policy of two hours free to one hour free, it severely hurt the local retailers," she says.
"The city only seems to be concerned with how the restaurants are doing and the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves. We have lost a lot in the last two years. Downtown Middletown is more than the restaurants. We have some great retailers, but we need help and support."
Comments on Middletown Patch's original story and its Facebook page criticized the move and some offered alternatives.
"The 8 to 8 concept of the meters in Middletown certainly would discourage me and my family from having a wonderful lunch or supper since the window of opportunity for the family will mean higher prices," Everett Henry wrote. "I definitely feel there can be a better solution as cutting the time when you collect from a meter. Allow the patron his/Her one hour as you had in the past, with a slight increase in the parking meter."
Jane Palmer thinks the increase in fee-charging hours is detrimental to restaurant owners. "Previously if you went out to eat downtown around 6 p.m., there was no charge to park. Now people will have to include the price of parking when considering dining out on Main Street, Middletown."
Jim called for the city council to rethink its approval of the parking hours increase. "The public opinion is already pretty clear, and dismissing it casually by saying it could be worse seems to miss the point. We have worked too hard to build our downtown restaurant district from a ghost town 30 years ago to one where we actually have a parking problem that is one of the primary obstacles to greater success."
Ella wrote that Middletown should consider abandoning its parking fee structure entirely, as a way to encourage more business.
"Free parking would draw in more commerce and stimulate the economy more, as people would feel free to stay, relax and eat at their favorite restaurant, wander around the mall or spend time at a local shop. The more time they spend inside of the establishment, the more likely they are to spend more money there," Ella wrote.
"People are instead running out to move their cars or spending so much on the meter that they don't sit and stay for the full-course meal they planned on having, etc. Charging for longer hours and making it more 'convenient' through cell phone usage is STILL less money that these individuals can spend in the local establishments, all of these establishments whom pay city taxes."
What do you think about Middletown's parking policy? What is your experience in other municipalities around Connecticut and beyond? Tell us in the comments below.