Council Straw Vote Backs $3.25 Per Hour On-Street Bethesda Parking Rate

Council Straw Vote Backs $3.25 Per Hour On-Street Bethesda Parking Rate

Proposal to extend parking enforcement hours in Wheaton rejected

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County Council has taken a preliminary vote to boost on-street meter rates by $1 per hour in Bethesda.

Leigh McDonald

In a straw vote, the Montgomery County Council supported a $1 an hour rate increase for on-street meters in downtown Bethesda during peak times.

In the same vote, the council rejected a proposed extension of parking fee enforcement hours in Wheaton’s urban district.

The changes come as part of a package of parking rate increases proposed by County Executive Marc Elrich.

Elrich wanted to set Bethesda parking fees at $4 per hour, but a compromise reached earlier this month in the Transportation and Environment Committee set that maximum at $3.25. Parking is currently $2.25 per hour at on-street meters.

The goal of the “demand-based pricing” is to free up spaces in front of businesses and encourage drivers to park in garages.

Council member Hans Riemer, a member of the transportation committee, said he was comfortable with the pricing change, although he noted that it may require some drivers to change their habits from parking on the street.

“That’s a behavior change. It’s not easy for the community to support that change. But that is what we’re trying to push toward here,” he said.

Elrich’s proposal also recommended extending on-street parking payment enforcement hours in downtown Wheaton to 10 p.m. Currently, drivers must pay between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday for on-street spaces and from Monday through Friday for garage spaces. Rates are either 75 cents or 60 cents per hour depending on whether the parking is short-term (less than four hours) or long-term. The Department of Transportation estimated that extending the parking enforcement hours would generate an additional $125,000 in revenue.

Council President Nancy Navarro, whose district includes Wheaton, said a number of minority-owned small businesses had expressed concern that extending parking enforcement would deter customers from frequenting the downtown area at night.

Navarro also said business owners would like any changes to parking to occur after the Wheaton Revitalization Project is complete next year — a $180 million project involving the construction of a county office building that will house the planning department, along with 12,000 square feet of retail space and a below-ground parking garage. The center will be located in “Wheaton Triangle” which is formed by the surrounding streets of Veirs Mill Road, Georgia Avenue and University Boulevard.

“I am very mindful of the need to have the kind of revenue necessary in that area,” Navarro said. “I’m also very sensitive to the fact that we’re in the midst of this revitalization project.”

During last week’s transportation committee hearing, the committee favored increasing the parking enforcement hours due to the fact that at least one restaurant had complained of residents from neighboring apartments parking on the street during free nighttime hours, leaving no spaces available.

Council members agreed Tuesday that the best course would be to hold public hearings and meet with business owners before making any changes to the Wheaton parking hours.

“When we get to the end of the tunnel, that’s the time to raise parking fees,” said Council member Tom Hucker, referring to the revitalization project.

Money from parking facilities in Bethesda, Silver Spring and Wheaton funds the urban districts in those areas, which are agencies responsible for parking maintenance, street upkeep and beautification projects.

Council member Evan Glass, a member of the committee, said he supported the Bethesda parking rate increase because the goal is “not a money grab, but is to maintain open parking.” But he said it may be time to rethink how the urban districts are funded.

“All of these funds are being used to help fund the parking lot districts. And I’m not convinced this business model works anymore,” he said.

The council will vote on an amended version of Elrich’s full $5.7 billion budget later this month.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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