Lebanon Considers Parking Meters

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, June 07, 2018

Lebanon — City officials on Wednesday said they’re open to the idea of installing parking meters in downtown Lebanon, adding that action is needed to open up spaces near the Lebanon Mall and Colburn Park.

Although there are few times when parking cannot be found downtown, too many business owners and employees are taking up prime spots in the business district, city councilors said.

“It’s not ideal right now, and I think all of the businesses are a little frustrated by that situation,” Councilor Karen Liot Hill said during Wednesday night’s meeting.

Liot Hill, who co-owns the Lebanon Diner, said she’s noticed a lack of parking in some areas around the mall caused by cars that sit within all-day spots.

But she also expressed hesitancy about metering lots, saying it’s a large investment that might be better used to build a parking structure.

Lebanon recently contracted White River Junction-based Resource Systems Group Inc. to study its parking conditions under a recommendation from the city’s Master Plan, according to Planning Director David Brooks.

The plan, which was adopted in 2012, suggests that the city monitor parking space availability both downtown and in West Lebanon.

The firm, which monitored city lots over two days last fall, found that parking is available in both neighborhoods, but noted meters could be financially successful if city officials opted to install them.

Downtown, “ample” parking can be found during all times except for Thursday evenings, when the Lebanon Farmers Market is operating, consultants said. Lots behind City Hall and near Peking Toyko both are more than 90 percent occupied during those times, they said in a report to the City Council.

Meanwhile, parking lots in West Lebanon were never found to be more than 50 percent occupied, the consultants said.

“Pay-for-parking is not currently necessary to encourage parking turnover in town,” the report said. “However, the city may desire to implement a pay-for-parking system to offset the costs of providing and maintaining parking for public use.”

While the study doesn’t say overall parking is a concern, anecdotal evidence suggests the city should encourage space turnover more frequently, Brooks, the city planner, said in a memo to the City Council.

“Some business owners and employees have been observed to park in time-limited spaces for extended periods rather than parking in ‘all day’ spaces farther from their place of work,” Brooks wrote.

Councilor Clifton Below highlighted those problems with photos taken from the rooftop of 1 Court St. in November. Below recused himself from decision-making because he is a part-owner of the building, which contains Three Tomatoes Trattoria.

One photo shows 14 cars parked in a two-hour lot behind City Hall. Two hours later, 10 of those spaces still were filled by the same cars.

While councilors approved of metering at least some parking spots downtown, they also questioned whether it would be worth the cost. Officials also struggled to determine whether residents would be exempt from paying, and how that could be enforced.

Lebanon likely would be required to make a $200,000 initial investment to install meters downtown, according to the consultants’ report. Staff, equipment and maintenance costs are estimated to total an additional $170,000 annually.

At a rate of 75 cents per hour, the consultants predict Lebanon could make just over $200,000 a year between meters and fines.

By comparison, Woodstock generates about $110,000 a year charging $1 an hour, while Hanover makes around $1.8 million. That town’s meters charge between 50 cents and $1 depending on where they’re located.

White River Junction pulled its meters in the 1990s, after community leaders worried they made the downtown less friendly to tourists.

Lebanon police largely are responsible for enforcing the city’s parking laws, issuing tickets for about three hours a week. Tickets are $10 when paid within 48 hours and $20 afterward, with revenues generating roughly $4,200 a year.

The city once had a parking attendant, who worked 24 hours a week chalking tires and writing violations. But Lebanon did away with the job about eight years ago, when it became clear the position wasn’t paying for itself.

Councilor Bruce Bronner asked who would be responsible for enforcement and ticketing if the Council decided to install meters.

“Is this going to fall on the shoulders of the police department or is it going to fall on public works?” he asked.

City Manager Shaun Mulholland said Lebanon likely would hire a meter reader rather than diverting police officers away from their duties. Along with the additional salary and benefits, he said, the city also would have to be ready to boot cars and take violators to district court.

The council ultimately instructed Brooks to explore the costs and benefits of a pay-to-park system for further discussion in the coming months.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.