When the Towson Square movie complex opened July 10, the Baltimore County parking "czar" Kenneth Mills Jr. was ready.
Earlier in the month, on July 1, Mills, CEO of the Baltimore County Revenue Authority, instituted changes in public parking rates and hours with the dual goals of maximizing parking spaces and avoiding the dreaded gridlock.
However, some of the changes may be scaled back because of complaints from local residents, according to 5th District County Councilman David Marks, who, along with 42nd District state Sen. Jim Brochin met with Mills Friday.
"The perception is that there's no parking in Towson. But there is plenty — in garages," said Mills whose Revenue Authority, a quasi-government agency, oversees nearly 4,800 public parking spaces in the greater Towson area.
The Revenue Authority owns and operates five public garages with 4,400 spaces, three surface parking lots with 165 spaces and the on-street metered parking of about 500 spaces. In addition and not under the Revenue Authority's jurisdiction, two privately owned garages in the central Towson business district have a total of 1,750 spaces for public use.
Mills' focus was the Towson Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library, 115 Towsontown Blvd., where the Revenue Authority's eight-level parking garage has 950 spaces.
The library garage is a block away from Towson Square, 505 Virginia Ave., whose underground three-level, 850-space parking garage was built by the complex's developer and turned over to the Revenue Authority as part of the project deal.
Mills has been planning the changes for at least seven years, ever since the Towson Square movie project was raised.
"If we had left things the way they were," he said, "in September and October, when people are back from vacation and the college students have returned, we would have gridlock in Towson."
On July 1, changes in rates and hours went into effect for the library garage, the surface parking lots and the on-street metered parking. Within 30 days, Mills intends to institute more changes to improve Towson's parking situation.
To encourage people to walk the block and use the library garage, its parking rate dropped from $4 to $2 for the first hour, with $1 for each subsequent hour up to a $10 daily maximum. This is the same rate as the Towson Square garage.
Rates for on-street metered parking rose from $1 to $2 for the first hour, with $1 for each subsequent hour, although most metered parking has a two-hour limit. Enforcement hours expanded from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and meters are now in effect on Sundays during the same hours as well.
Surface parking lot rates also rose from $1 to $2 per hour, and enforcement hours expanded from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
"We expect the overflow parking from Towson Square to go to the library garage, and we wanted the same public rate at both places," Mills said.
He added that, in order to overcome some people's reluctance to go into parking garages, especially at night, security at both garages has been beefed up and equipment that facilitates quick entry and exit has been installed.
Rates and hours did not change for the Revenue Authority's other parking garages, at Tolbert, and Washington and Baltimore avenues.
Even though the changes have only been in effect for about a month, Mills said he can already see results. Use of the library garage has increased in the 15 percent vicinity.
"The library garage used to be empty in the evening. Now, we're seeing 60 to 90 and 100 cars there every night," he said. "Spaces on the street are also turning over."
Not every business was happy about the proposed changes in garage and on-street parking. Restaurant owners have expressed concerns about the effect on their businesses, according to Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce.
"We wanted to be pro-active, to answer their questions," said Hafford who, with Mills and Baltimore County Department of Planning Director Andrea van Arsdale, have been talking with restaurant owners over the summer.
As a result, within the next 30 days, Mills will institute two more changes. One is another rate change for the library parking garage, which will charge $2 for three hours after 5:30 p.m. and on weekends.
Patrons at the Towson Square movie theaters can already have their parking tickets validated at a rate of $2 for four hours. Patrons at the Towson Square restaurants can have their parking validated at $2 for three hours. But if you go to the movies and a restaurant, you only get the movie validation rate.
Thanks to a sophisticated validation system the revenue is installing, Towson restaurants will have the option of validating parking in the library garage at the evening and weekend rate of $2 for three hours. "They can choose to pay all or a portion of the patron's parking," Mills said.
"We want to encourage people to use the movie theater and support the restaurants in Towson," Hafford said.
The second change involves valet parking at on-street parking spots. With the Baltimore City model in mind, Mills will set up "valet zones" near restaurants that pay a registration fee to the Revenue Authority in order to lease those parking spots. The Revenue Authority will also make sure that valet operators use qualified drivers and have obtained appropriate insurance.
"It makes good business sense to make it easier for restaurants to operate," Mills said.
As for local residents, Marks said that he, Brochin and 42nd District state Del. Steve Lafferty have been hearing from constituents who are not pleased with the changes in garages, lots and metered parking.
"We were not included in the process until now," Marks said of the initiatives. "We have subsequently talked to Mills at BCRA and made suggestions about scaling back."
Marks said one of the changes under discussion is the elimination of free parking on Sundays. "We've had that in Towson forever," said Marks, noting that discussions with Mills are continuing, although there is no time frame for a resolution.