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Panel: Nudge employees off streets to ease downtown parking woes
Not many people pay as close attention to parking downtown as Dave Teske. Owner of Kilwin’s Chocolates, Fudge and Ice Cream in Black Mountain, Teske spends as much as three hours a day, six days a week, looking out of the window of his business at the traffic outside while making sweet treats.
So it makes sense that, at the Nov. 13 board of aldermen meeting, he would be the one to deliver a blue ribbon panel report on parking downtown. The upshot? There would be a lot more visitors downtown if business owners and employees there used the off-street lots.
The 14-person panel, created by shopkeepers and outgoing mayor Michael Sobol, met four times in recent weeks to pinpoint issues impacting parking in the busy downtown area. Panel members, including Sobol,, are "residents, business owners, building owners or people who just love Black Mountain,” Teske said at his store two days after his presentation to the board.
In the panel's first meeting, participants were asked to write down short-term and long-term goals as they relate to parking in the district. They came up with about 40 ideas, and the panel worked to find three things the town could do now, Teske said. The first is to create some parking regulations (the town has none now), he told aldermen. Having some would create turnover on Broadway Avenue and Cherry Street and maybe Cherry Lane and Sutton Avenue, he said.
Those streets provide parking for people popping into a business to “pay an insurance bill, pick up a screw from Henson’s or Town Hardware or pick up a bottle of wine or ice cream,” Teske said.
On-street parking, according to the panel, is best utilized when vehicles come and go regularly. But that’s not what’s happening, Teske said.
“On average, Monday through Sunday, our downtown on-street parking is utilized mainly by shop owners and their employees,” he said. “That’s basically seven days a week from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. That makes it very difficult for someone locally or from out of town to pull in and shop in our stores.”
From his store about lunchtime on a recent Wednesday, Teske easily pointed out nearly a dozen spaces occupied by merchants. "Those are only the ones we can see from here,” he said.
Parking spaces are valuable in an area that relies on a steady flow of consumers, Teske told aldermen. He cited a parking study done in Chapel Hill that indicates nearly 93 percent of people typically park less than two hours. Most street spaces turn over eight to 17 times a day, he said. Even using the more conservative number, the impact on Cherry Street could be great - the turnover of just 20 of the street's 43 unregulated spaces could mean 160 motorists - and shoppers - a day.
“Forty spaces would turn over 320 spaces a day, and you can keep doing the math from there,” he said.
Creating and enforcing parking regulations would encourage more people to come downtown, he said. So would employees' using off-street parking, he said.
Kilwin’s can have as many as 12 employees on a shift during its busiest season (around July 4th), and each one knows to park in the Black Mountain Methodist parking lot, accessible from Church Street, Teske said. Those spaces are open for public use through an agreement with the town.
Several lots adjacent to the business district provide free public parking, Teske pointed out. The panel recommended the town improve its signage to let people know about those spaces.
"We're talking about improved utilization of main parking areas," he told the board. "What we mean by 'main parking areas' is the churches and the city parking on the outskirts (of downtown)." Some downtown business owners and employees are not aware of them, Teske said.
"I have residents who come in all the time and tell me they don't park at the churches because they don't know they're allowed to," he said. "So educating local businesses about where they can park is part of this. A lot of it is simply education. Letting people know that there are spots for all-day parking and there are spots that shouldn't be used for all-day parking."
The panel asked the town to consider re-configuring parking along the south side of Sutton Avenue, east of N.C. 9. Those spaces are parallel to the tracks. Restriping them to create angle parking would yield another 10 to 20 spots, Teske said.
The Black Mountain Board of Aldermen recently purchased the building that house Carolina Foam, Fabric & Home Decor, a purchase that will provide about 75-100 parking spaces near town, according to town manager Matt Settlemyer.
After Teske's presentation, alderman and mayor-elect Don Collins asked Settlemyer what the the town is doing to address parking in town. The town is "formalizing lease arrangements" with churches so there can be additional signage at the Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist churches, Settlemyer said. Additionally, the town has applied for a state transportation department grant to pay for a parking and circulation study downtown, he said.
Teske said the panel will "have been heard" if aldermen "move forward on any or all of the things we presented."