As a nightlife writer and Federal Hill resident, I'm going to weigh in on this zero tolerance parking proposal. I don't want to, but I will.
There's already been an earnest discussion going on under the Jeff the Drunk post, and I want to add my two cents.
But first, a brief synopsis: In most Federal Hill parking zones, you can park on most non-metered streets in Federal Hill for two hours without a permit between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., give or take. Before or after those hours, parking is free.
But on baseball and football game days, if you don't have a permit and you park in one of these spots, you get ticketed and towed.
Got it? OK. Now, here's what they want to do ...
With the new proposal, they want to make it so you can park for two hours without a permit between the hours of 7 am. and 6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and similar hours on Sundays. Before or after those hours, you're going to need a permit.
If you live in a house with a garage or parking pad, under these new restrictions, you have to use it. You get one less street parking permit for each parking pad/garage spot you have.
I'm not entirely sure of the time table, but if community organizers get enough signatures, we could see these changes go into effect next year.
There is also a good deal of free parking in Federal Hill -- by Digital Harbor High School and along Fort Avenue -- which won't be affected by these changes.
Now there is no question -- between all the bar patrons coming in on Friday and Saturday nights and all the residents coming home from work, parking is a mess in Federal Hill -- especially on weekend nights.
There is only one garage in Federal Hill -- the West Street Garage. On Friday and Saturday nights, it fills to capacity. But most other nights, it sits largely empty. People want to add another level on the garage or get the state to build a new one, but the garage's business isn't consistent enough over the course of the week to justify expanding it. Sigh.
I've heard rumors about another smaller garage near the West Street garage which could be opened to the public. But right now, they are nothing more than rumors.
The community organizers are also trying to speed up the process to have the old meters replaced with the new EZ Park meters, which could add one or two extra spaces to each block in the neighborhood's bar/business district.
As you can imagine, the proposed restrictions have some bar owners up in arms. Jason Zink, who owns No Idea and Don't Know, recently put them both up for sale because of this. He thinks the new restrictions will cripple his business.
I don't think the new restrictions will make or break any South Baltimore bars. But I do think they will substantially hurt business. If people drive into Federal Hill on a Friday night and the garage is full and they can't park on the side streets without getting ticketed, some of them will get angry and stop coming.
On the flip side, some residents have to park five and six blocks from their house on a Friday night because there are no spots anywhere nearby. That can be incredibly frustrating.
There has to be some middle ground here. Maybe the community organizers can slightly scale back the zones so there are one or two free spots on each block. Maybe they can encourage someone from the private sector to build another garage nearby. I'm no expert on this, but there has to be something we can do so that everybody benefits a little.