Parking issues in Princeton debated and shared in meeting

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How does the Municipality of Princeton balance the parking needs of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood residents while also avoiding taking advantage of the neighborhood for employee parking?

That question generated a lot of debate and a few suggestions at a Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association meeting on Feb. 15 at the Arts Council of Princeton.

The meeting was led by Princeton Council members David Cohen and Leticia Fraga.

The Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood is being eyed by the Princeton Permit Parking Task Force for a 90- to 120-day pilot program that would test possible parking solutions, and officials sought feedback from the residents.

The neighborhood, which is bordered by Witherspoon Street, John Street, Birch Avenue and Green Street, is one of two neighborhoods chosen for the pilot program because that’s where most of the parking complaints originate.

Among the goals is to bring uniformity to the differing parking regulations that had applied to the former Princeton Borough and former Princeton Township, which merged in 2013 to create the Municipality of Princeton, said Fraga, who chairs the Princeton Permit Parking Task Force.

“We are trying to address the parking needs of residents, employers and visitors. The priority is the residents, but we do need to accommodate the employers,” Fraga said. The businesses contribute to a vibrant economy, she said.

The draft plan presented to the Princeton Council by the task force last month would provide up to two parking permits for on-street parking to residents who do not have a driveway or whose driveway is inadequate. There would be no fee for the permit during the pilot program.

Residents who do not have driveways would be issued a maximum of two permits. If the resident has a driveway that is inadequate, one permit would be issued. The permit would be valid around the clock.

Residents would be able to purchase guest parking permits for visitors, but they would be limited to not more than one week at a time or 42 one-day permits in a calendar year.

The employee parking permit scheme would allow business owners to purchase a limited number of parking permits for their employees, who would be allowed to park on designated streets. The permits could be transferred between employees who work different shifts.

Employees with permits would be allowed to park in under-utilized metered parking spaces on Witherspoon Street and Franklin Avenue. The fee for an employee parking permit would have to be determined.

At the meeting, neighborhood resident Yina Moore suggested that residential parking permits should only be issued to owner-occupied homes. Some rental properties may have more than two occupants, and if permits were issued to each one, it would consume more on-street parking, she said.

Cohen replied that there has been nothing in the discussion about issuing more than two permits per household. Regardless of the number of cars owned by a household, only two permits would be issued, he said.

It was also pointed out that some residents park their cars in the back yard. If on-street parking permits were to be issued, it is likely that they would park on the street so they could reclaim their back yards – which would also lead to more on-street parking.

On the topic of employee parking, some business owners said they pay for their employees’ parking and others have found creative ways to provide parking for their employees – even to sharing their own driveways, if they live close enough to the Central Business District.

Princeton Merchants Association President Jack Morrison, who also serves on the permit parking task force, said a few employees have indicated they would leave their jobs if they had to pay for parking.

Morrison suggested building a parking garage in the municipal parking lot off Park Place, at the rear of the CVS pharmacy, to take the burden off the residential neighborhoods, but Cohen disagreed. “It’s a 1980’s solution,” he said.

Architect Robert Hillier, whose office is on Witherspoon Street, said that the metered parking spaces on Witherspoon Street, between Quarry and Lytle streets, should be reserved for customer parking. They should not be earmarked for employee parking, he said.

One attendee, whose wife owns a business in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, agreed. He said the metered parking spaces are heavily used during lunch and dinner. He suggested conducting a study to determine the frequency of use and then figure out what to do with them.

He also suggested conducting an audit of the Maclean Street municipal parking lot to find out who holds a parking permit and who is using the parking lot. The perception is that it is not fully used, he said.

Employee parking doesn’t need to be restricted to the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, said resident Leighton Newlin. It could be expanded to other neighborhoods that are close to the business district, he said.

While this is a pilot program, “what I think is important is that the Witherspoon-Jackson and the ‘tree streets’ neighborhood should not carry the entire burden (of employee parking),” Newlin said. The “tree streets” neighborhood is located between Nassau Street and Hamilton Avenue.

Newlin pointed to Boudinot Street and other streets in the upscale Western Section of Princeton, west of Bayard Lane/Route 206, and to Jefferson Road and Moore Street, east of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, as potential streets for employee parking.

Fraga, who chairs the task force, replied that while it is a pilot program for the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, “this is not to say that we are not considering other neighborhoods” for employee permit parking.

Princeton Council member Eve Niedergang, who was sitting in the audience, said there could be “unintended consequences” arising from the pilot program. She suggested reviewing it after about 60 or 70 days, and to hold another neighborhood meeting.

Yina Moore, a neighborhood resident, called on the task force to take its time and consider a “broader” pilot program. It should be a “well thought-out, data supported” pilot program, she said. There is no rush to enter into the pilot program, she said.

Wrapping up the meeting, Fraga said the permit parking task force will hold a meeting at the Chestnut Street firehouse to discuss the pilot program with “tree street” residents. No date has been set.

Once the task force has heard from the residents and the business owners, it would return to the Princeton Council with a concrete plan for the pilot program for the council’s review, Fraga said.