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Dayhoff: Westminster parking meters in the news ... and not for the first time

Westminster’s city officials are weighing the benefits of upgrading to app-connected parking kiosks that will accept coins, credit cards or may be accessed by an app.
Westminster’s city officials are weighing the benefits of upgrading to app-connected parking kiosks that will accept coins, credit cards or may be accessed by an app. (Kevin Dayhoff)

Recently Westminster’s quaint but antiquated parking meters returned as a topic of conversation. According to an article in the Carroll County Times by Catalina Righter, “Westminster pondering app-based parking meter upgrade,” she reported that “Westminster’s city officials are weighing the benefits of upgrading to app-connected parking meters to increase convenience. Council members and the mayor discussed the idea at their Monday, Feb. 24 meeting…”

It is not the first time that the Westminster parking meters made the paper, and probably not the last.

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Westminster officials are pondering replacing the city’s aging parking meters with kiosks that will take coins, credit cards, or can be operated with an app. The kiosks would generate a receipt.
Westminster officials are pondering replacing the city’s aging parking meters with kiosks that will take coins, credit cards, or can be operated with an app. The kiosks would generate a receipt. (Kevin Dayhoff)

On March 8, 1946, the local newspaper, the Democratic Advocate ran an article, “Parking Meter Hearing March 21.” The article reported, “The long awaited court action against the parking meters for our city will be heard in the Circuit Court for Carroll County with Associate Judge Clark, of Howard County, on the bench, on Thursday, March 21 at 10 a.m.…”

I have written about the “Great Westminster Parking War,” before. Portions of this conversation have been published before. It is a fascinating topic full of tension and intrigue over what we consider today to be a relatively mundane aspect of the historic downtown business district.

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In 2011, I wrote that a bill of complaint was filed Sept. 19, 1941 by T. William Mather Jr., George K. Mather, Frank W. Mather, Harry Rosenstock, Fred J. Schmitt, and Esra W. Harbaugh against the Mayor and Common Council of Westminster, according to a newspaper article at the time.

The wheels of justice were apparently no faster in yesteryear than they are today. It took five years before the case wound its way through the legal system.

“On Feb. 1, 1946 a motion was filed for a hearing in the matter by Attorneys Francis Neal Parke and Ralph G. Hoffman, and the case has been re-opened … D. Eugene Walsh, counsel to the city, will represent the city.”

On May 24, 1946, the Democratic Advocate reported “The Mayor and Council, who had under consideration parking meters for Main Street, both sides, from Charles Carroll Hotel to Anchor Street, was a reality Tuesday morning when a force of men started drilling holes for the erection of the meters….

“The injunction was denied by Judge Clarke, sometime last April, and an appeal was under way but later dropped by the opposers … Charles Armacost, popular contractor of Finksburg, has charge of the placing the meters in position. The work is being done very rapidly.”

The meters in the city today were installed around 2003. According to a Times article by Megan Wessel on Dec. 10, 2002, the new maters were approved when, “The City Council voted Monday evening to pursue a seven-year, $550,000 loan to purchase parking control equipment, meter replacements and enforcement hardware and software. The vote came after a report from the city’s downtown parking advisory committee …”

Presently, too many of the meters do not work and the software for the meters is no longer supported. In addition, according to Westminster Mayor Joe Dominick, today, many folks no longer carry money — especially coins — but have a credit card or smart phone with them. One of the ideas being considered is to remove the parking meters and replace them with kiosks placed strategically and conveniently throughout town, which will take coins, paper money, credit cards, or a phone app to pay for the meter.

The main benefit, according to Dominick in the recent newspaper article by Righter, “is to keep people from taking up spaces downtown for an extended period of time, not leaving spaces for people to park when they want to shop, eat and use services downtown. …

“Council president Gregory Pecoraro said that the Economic Development Committee agreed to start looking at options and asked City Administrator Barbara Matthews to begin researching what it would take to upgrade meters to those that use wireless technologies for payments and monitoring …”

At the Feb. 24 meeting, Kevin Wagman, who frequently attends the meetings of the Westminster Mayor and Common Council and is known affectionately as the “Mayor of Green Street,” pondered the advisability of just making the parking free?

However the city had a disastrous experience with making the meters free many years ago.

According to an editorial in the Times on Dec, 1, 1999, “The Westminster City Council on Nov. 22 decided to end a long-standing tradition of free parking downtown during the holidays. The decision came at the request of downtown merchants, who noticed that it was their own employees and not holiday shoppers who were taking advantage of the city’s goodwill gesture.”

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Dominick spoke for many when he remarked at the Feb. 24 meeting, that replacing the meters “is something Westminster should have [started] doing [years ago,] ‘being [that we are] a city that’s trying to be known for technology.’”

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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