November 30, 2021

City weighs downtown parking rules changes

Travis Dunn/staff reporter

City officials are considering changing some permitted parking spaces in this public lot on the north side of Port Watson Street into two-hour spots.

Downtown parking: This is one can of worms that had to be opened sooner or later.

A parade of people spoke at a recent Cortland Common Council meeting on behalf of Frank & Mary’s Diner at 10 Port Watson St., which they said is being harmed by the current parking rules in the public lot near the diner on the north side of Port Watson Street. Council agreed to consider changing some of the permitted parking spaces in that lot and the public lot across the street near the city Youth Bureau, to two-hour parking spots.

“We’re having an internal discussion about current parking structure to see if there’s a way to modify it in a way that would be beneficial,” Mayor Brian Tobin said.

City Attorney Richard Van Donsel is drafting a new law for council to consider that would make that change. The city will have a public hearing on the matter at 7 p.m. Sept. 3, after which council may vote on it.

However, many of the surrounding businesses and their employees oppose reducing the number of permitted spots in the Port Watson Street lots. Allyson Strauf, who works at the box office of the Cortland Repertory Theatre, is one of them.

The theater, she said, has 10 employees in the summer who share six city parking permits. That means that every day, four employees must find their own spaces and move their cars around every two or three hours, depending on which type of spot they can find, risking tickets if they don’t move them on time.

“I’ve paid my dues,” said Strauf, who, in working for the theater for seven years, has averaged one ticket per year.

Moreover, the employees of businesses surrounding that lot — some with permits, some not — compete with shoppers, visitors and downtown residents for the available spots.

“There’s a lot of businesses, but not enough spaces in that lot,” said Strauf.

Diane Wheaton, employment and training director of Career Works! Career Center, also opposes reducing permitted parking.

“I just think it’s detrimental,” she said. “I don’t know what the answer is to parking downtown. I wish there was an easy fix, but there really is not.”

But supporters of Frank & Mary’s Diner said something needs to be done to help that business. Supporters at an Aug. 6 council meeting said the lack of nearby customer parking hurts the diner. They also argued that many of the longtime patrons are elderly and some have mobility problems, and a long walk is difficult.

“They love coming here,” said Paul Braun, who lives in the Gables Inn between Frank & Mary’s and the public lot, “but they’re getting older.”

Tobin acknowledged that satisfying all interested parties will not be easy.

“One of the obstacles will be meeting the needs of all the businesses along there,” he said. “So it’s going to be a balancing act meeting everybody’s needs.”

One possible effect of converting some permitted space to two-hour spots might be to encourage more employees of downtown businesses to park across the street in the lot near the Youth Bureau, where many employees of downtown businesses and the U.S. Postal Service park every day.

That lot also contains a Youth Bureau basketball court that could be converted into at least 15 new parking spaces, a possibility that was raised at the Aug. 6 council meeting, and one that Strauf favored. “I’ve never seen anyone use it,” she said.

Youth Bureau Director John McNerney said he would have no problem with the city converting the court into parking spaces.

“People park there already,” he said.

Downtown parking is only going to get tighter as the city moves to overhaul Main Street as part of its Downtown Revitalization Initiative, when areas of the street, including parking spaces, will be blocked by construction.

Tobin said that process will unfold over the next two years, but well before that begins, the city will ask for public input on changes to Main Street parking that the DRI process will entail; the city is waiting for preliminary and design work by Fisher Associates to be completed before asking for public input on parking, Tobin said.