Parking woes pit Canton residents, businesses against each other

For Mike Beczkowski, parking on his street near the American Can Company complex in Canton has gotten a bit better since he and others in the neighborhood persuaded the city to require residential permit parking last November. Most nights, he can now find a place to park near his rowhouse.

"This permit parking has given us a hunting license to get parking in our area," Beczkowski said.

But for Paul Palmieri, the CEO of Millennial Media, the parking woes in Canton have never been worse. Each day, his 200 employees struggle to find places to park near Millennial's headquarters at the Can Company complex, a bustling center of offices and restaurants on Boston Street.

Parking is a long-simmering problem throughout Canton that in recent years has pitted area businesses against residents. How well Canton's business and residential communities can work together — and with city government — to ease everyone's parking woes remains to be seen. Much is at stake, from allaying residents' quality-of-life concerns to supporting businesses that create a vibrant commercial area in the Can Company complex.

It's such a critical issue, Palmieri said, that it's one of the factors he's considering in whether to move Millennial, a thriving Internet company that went public this year in a $1.8 billion offering, out of Canton when its lease expires next year.

Another company already has left the complex, in part because of parking. R2i, a digital marketing agency with 75 employees, left the Can Company last month and moved to offices overlooking the Inner Harbor.

Matt Goddard, R2i's CEO, cited parking as a significant problem that contributed to the company's move. R2i's employees park in a garage now.

"We need more space," Goddard said. "Everyone kept talking about the parking. It wasn't the only reason, but it was the thing that tipped me over."

Millennial may leave Baltimore altogether. Palmieri said the company is looking in the region, but also at spots in Northern Virginia and Washington.

"We're in the early stages of exploration of our long-term headquarters," Palmieri said. "We want that exploration to include Canton, but it's currently challenging, at best."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently visited Millennial to discuss the company's future in the city, and parking was one of the items on the agenda, the mayor's spokesman said.

Permit parking near the Can Company complex may just have shifted the problem. Residents outside the permit area now complain they often have to park several blocks from their homes when they arrive from work. The local city councilman, James B. Kraft, said he's working on a solution with city officials that will be unveiled this fall, likely involving more reverse-angle parking, space sharing and other remedies.

C. William Struever, the Can Company's developer and property manager, ticked off a raft of changes coming to the Can Company in the coming months, including better-managed parking for businesses, visitors and residents in the complex's garage, and more bike racks.

"We're working with the community trying to reduce the need for parking and reduce traffic congestion," Struever said. "We're trying to come up with a long-term solution for the parking that recognizes everybody's needs."

Resident Leroy Hartman recently gave in to the parking problems. Hartman, 71, who lives in the 800 block of S. Port St., said he had to quit his job at the port of Baltimore as a visitor escort two months ago because he grew tired of searching for parking for an hour in Canton each night when he returned from work.

"When I first moved here [in 1994], the Can Company was completely empty," Hartman said. "Now they have all these business open in the Can Company, but no off-street parking."

Part of the problem stems from the success of the complex, which was redeveloped in the late 1990s from a shuttered factory into a hub for businesses and commerce. Struever said the factory used to have about 250 workers.

Now the complex houses about 700 workers employed by dozens of small companies. Restaurants have moved into the complex, while a Safeway supermarket abuts the property.

The Can Company has become a destination for workers — and their cars — during the day, and an evening draw for people going to restaurants and bars. Neighborhood residents believe the city and the Can Company's owner and property manager should fix the parking problem that the business tenants and their customers helped create for residents.

"We think the problem should be put at the doorstep of the Can Company," said Dan Tracy, vice president of the Canton Community Association. "The No. 1 quality-of-life issue in Canton is parking. There's just too many cars for the available on-street parking. It's not a new issue. We've been dealing with it for a long time."

Street parking near the Can Company became a flash point last year when a group of residents, including Beczkowski, who live in an eight-square-block area near the complex petitioned the Parking Authority to institute residential permit parking.

Spaces are scarce in that part of Canton. A Parking Authority study last year found there are about 220 parking spaces for 216 houses in the eight-block area. Since many households have more than one car, parking is tight already — and then each day, workers from the Can Company flood the streets looking for parking.

The study showed that 72 percent of the vehicles parked in the area during the day were not owned by neighborhood residents. That fell only to 63 percent in the evening, according to the study.

The residents' group got their section of Canton its parking permit requirement. Area 43 is now one of 18 areas in the city where residents are required to buy annual permits to park, as a way to limit visitors from overextending their parking times, according to the Parking Authority.

Visitors have a two-hour parking limit, unless they have guest passes. Those without a permit between the hours of 8 a.m. and midnight are issued a $52 citation, according to Steve Robinson, a Parking Authority supervisor. After multiple citations, a driver's car could be towed.

"It took the [residential permit parking] process to get the businesses to the table, to start talking," Beczkowski said

The Can Company's property management firm entered into a joint contract with the Department of Transportation to create a transportation management plan that will help tenants of the complex find sustainable parking options and modes of transportation, Robinson said.

"A similar plan was done for the business community of the Inner Harbor, which helped to relieve parking demand significantly," he wrote in an email response to questions from The Baltimore Sun.

Parking has improved for Area 43 residents, but Can Company workers have started parking in other parts of Canton, Tracy said. Now, residents in those sections want their own permit parking, he said.

As a last resort, the city could implement permit parking for all of Canton, Councilman Kraft said.

Some in the community, including business leaders and Kraft, said they've tried to get Safeway, which owns a large parking lot, to be a part of the solution.

Craig Muckle, a Safeway spokesman, said the company would be willing to discuss parking problems with the community groups. In the past, he said, the store has allowed some of its spots to be rented to neighboring businesses.

But the lot is critical to the store's operation, Muckle said. In other locations, the company has found that when it has allowed the community to use its lot, it appears full and that deters potential customers.

Muckle said the company is exploring whether to put meters in the parking lot and make it available for anyone willing to pay. Safeway customers would get a period of free parking for shopping at the store, he said. But the company hasn't made any decisions.

"If someone wants to discuss it with us, we'll be open to it," Muckle said. "But I'm not suggesting 'open' means we're going to accede."