BRISTOL, Tenn. — Two meetings will be held by Bristol Tennessee officials later this month to inform the public and hear feedback about a plan to sell parking permits to downtown business owners and residents.
The first will be held Thursday at 2 p.m. and the second Nov. 19 at 6 p.m., both in the city annex next to the municipal building. City Manager Bill Sorah said different times on different days were chosen to accommodate different work schedules. He added that city staff will be at the meetings to answer questions, and he anticipates some members of City Council will attend.
Although council approval is not needed to begin selling permits, the plan was discussed during council’s Oct. 29 work session. The permits would cost $360 a year and only be available to downtown residents and business owners, with a limit of one permit per resident and five permits per business owner. They would have to be renewed annually.
Over the summer, the city changed the parking time limits Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to two hours throughout most of the downtown. However, for those who live and work downtown and don’t own or lease private lots or spaces, the limit can be difficult to comply with, so the city plans to offer the permits to grant them immunity to the two-hour daytime limit. The permits wouldn’t guarantee a parking space.
Sorah said the city staff began meeting to discuss the permits about six weeks ago, but the Department of Community Relations wasn’t involved and didn’t begin working on planning the meetings for the public and starting correspondence with downtown merchants and property owners until after the Oct. 29 work session.
He said the city wants to hear from the public before it goes forward with the permits.
Some downtown business and property owners have already spoken out about the permits.
At the Nov. 5 City Council meeting, David Shumaker, a former city councilman and mayor who owns an apartment building on Sixth Street, said the $360 price of the permits is too steep.
“I promoted for years the idea of a sticker for downtown folks, maybe one color for residents and one color for businesses. A nominal fee of $50 or $75 seems appropriate, not the cost of a parking lot when in fact you are giving them a hunting permit for a parking spot,” Shumaker said.
At the same meeting, Trevor Leonard, who owns The Answer at the corner of Sixth and Shelby streets, said he thinks the city is trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist because it isn’t hard to find parking space on weekdays until after 6 p.m.
Downtown parking has proven to be a controversial topic for the city, especially in the last few months. A city project that created a dining strip on a section of Sixth Street between Shelby and State Streets resulted in the loss of nine parking spaces, which frustrated several business owners and inconvenienced their customers. The city remedied the problem by renting parking spaces from a private lot along Sixth Street to be used for public parking.