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Hanover Studies Downtown Parking Remedies

Hanover — Town officials are weighing remedies to downtown’s perennial parking problem, including raising meter and ticket fees, installing meters that would take debit cards and adding discounted day passes at the town-owned Lebanon Street parking garage.

For downtown employees like Lara Fetto, a cashier at Umpleby’s Bakery and Cafe, a solution can’t come fast enough.

Fetto’s shift begins at noon. She could park at the Lebanon Street garage, but that would cost $10 a day. So she leaves her home in Canaan 10 minutes early so she has time to drive around to find a space.

“Parking is awful here,” Fetto said. “It’s just hit or miss.”

When she finally does find a space, she spends her workday dashing outside to “feed the meter.”

Fetto’s strategy is not unusual: Downtown workers are infamous for occupying the public parking spaces all day, feeding the meter before the time limit expires. That means shoppers or visitors — the people who spend money at merchants and restaurants — can’t find a spot.

The problem is supply and demand: While there are 1,717 people who work downtown, there are only 1,031 parking spaces.

“I understand that people visiting town could become frustrated when they’re driving in circles to look for something that’s convenient to them,” said Patrick O’Neill, Hanover’s parking supervisor. “We know one of the reasons why those spaces are taken is because we have a lot of employees that are parking in our best spaces.”

The town recently hired Boston-based consultants Desman Associates to conduct a $50,000 study of downtown parking. The changes recommended by the study are designed to make parking easier for downtown employees, as well as generate a valuable resource for the town: parking revenue.

But in Hanover, parking can be a politically sensitive topic because everyone has a stake in it — business owners, workers and the public. Indeed, it’s likely that the proposed changes won’t satisfy everyone. Drivers are already frustrated when they can’t find a spot, annoyed when fees are raised, and then angry when they get a ticket.

Even Andy Hill, the Desman consultant who spearheaded the study, prefaced his recommendations at Monday’s Selectboard meeting by saying, “I am not a political consultant.” The options he was offering, he said, were simply “conceptual.”

Hill worked with a committee that included the town’s parking supervisor, Dartmouth College representatives and a Planning Board member, among others, to conduct a survey of the 1,717 people who work downtown to find out when they work, how far they commute and where they park.

Hill got 576 responses, enough to learn that only 2.8 percent of respondents use the town-owned garage. His research also showed that, on any given day, the garage has many as 50 unoccupied parking spaces.

Hill suggested those spaces could be filled if the town offered daily parking passes at $2 for a weekday, and $1 on the weekend — compared with the current maximum fee of $15 for an eight-hour weekday. (Parking is free on Sundays).

At the same time, Hill suggested raising fees. The 10-hour parking rate in lots near Main Street could go from 25 cents to 75 cents an hour. In some of the two- and three-hour spots, Hill said, the town should double rates from 50 cents to $1 an hour.

“You need to start recognizing that there’s a real value to the assets you’re providing,” Hill told the Selectboard.

He recommended adopting a sliding scale so that parking closer to downtown would cost more, thereby motivating workers to look for lower-cost spots farther from Main Street. He also suggested an elaborate car pool system.

In Fetto’s case, these changes would mean it could cost her $6 to park on a workday, compared with the roughly $3 it costs her now. Town officials hope that such a fee increase will steer workers to other parking options, like the discounted day pass at the Lebanon Street garage.

The town already provides free parking at Thompson Arena on South Park Street for downtown workers, but many say they don’t like the half-mile walk, especially at night or when it’s very cold.

Laura Johnson, who works at The North Face store on Main Street, said she doesn’t mind parking at Thompson Arena, or the 10-minute walk to her store. But she often finds herself running late. So she grabs a parking space on the street or in a nearby lot and feeds the meter. That leads to further inconvenience: She often starts by parking her car on Main Street and then moves it to the 10-hour lot on Maple Street. And if she’s the only employee at the store, that means she has to close the store for a few minutes while she runs out to move her vehicle. “It’s like musical chairs all day,” Johnson said.

Hill said more permit parking spaces could be opened up to workers on Lebanon Street and Hovey Lane. Hanover High School students purchase most of these permits, but the town is considering asking them to swap their space for one in the Thompson Arena lot.

Additionally, Hill suggested increasing the cost of parking tickets for an expired meter from $10 to $15 and extending the meter hours from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. An extension of meter hours would likely require the town to hire additional parking enforcement officers to patrol and write tickets, however.

The town is also looking at installing parking meters that accept debit cards. O’Neill will be meeting with a meter vendor this week to get a better idea of how the product works. “Credit cards are something that the public has been asking for over the last couple of years. It’s a matter of convenience,” O’Neill said.

Now that the Selectboard has heard the recommendations, Griffin will put together a regular parking budget and an alternative parking budget that will include all of the recommendations and their possible revenues and expenditures. The parking budget will be discussed at the Feb. 25 Selectboard meeting.

Selectwoman Nancy Carter particularly liked Hill’s suggestion to encourage car pools by collaborating with other organizations such as Dartmouth College or Upper Valley Rideshare to help connect Hanover employees with others who have similar schedules and routes.

“I think some of these ideas could really be huge,” Carter said. “And even though change can be hard, I think people will get used to it as long as they have information about where they can park.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.